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In Season: cooking the perfect parsnip

Christmas would not be the same without the parsnip.

Parsnips can also be used in desserts
Parsnips can also be used in desserts

It is one of those vegetables that people love to serve along with their turkey and stuffing. However, did you know that in Scotland the parsnip is often called the white carrot?

I think that parsnips are seen by most people as a bit of a mystery because they don’t know what to do with them, but they should not be. They are the best vegetable you can get, followed closely by cauliflower and Swedes and, for me, they stand up for themselves.

They are also a very interesting vegetable. They came here from Eurasia and in the 15th and 16th centuries people used to use them in desserts, boiling them with honey, sugar and porridge. It sounds revolting but it’s not, I know because I’ve tried it.

Nowadays, everyone chucks parsnips in oil with brown sugar and roasts them but that is not the way to treat them, they are sweet already and doing this to them will only make them sweeter.

What you need to do is boil them. This way they cook very quickly, they are not big on calories and carbohydrates and you get 100% of their pure flavour.

You can also puree your boiled parsnips, add milk and butter to them and simmer them on the stove to make a fantastic parsnip soup. They are even fantastic mashed and, in my opinion, better than mashed potatoes.

Parsnips are wonderful and should not be seen as a second class vegetable. For some reason, they seem to fall into the Brussels sprouts league but, although they are not native to our shores, they are a bit of an unsung hero and they should be up there with the top vegetables.

Every time they come in season it gets me down a bit because you can’t get them anywhere unless they are roasted. You need to forget roasting them and boil them instead, they don’t need a sauce and you don’t even need to peel them or take the roots out.

I love eating them hot or cold, they go well with just about anything. They are fantastic with cottage cheese because the hot and cold just goes so well together. I even like dipping the parsnip and cottage cheese in ketchup because the sweet and vinegar works really well. It sounds weird but it is wonderful.

Parsnips are an under-rated vegetable so please give them a go.

Here are 10 more fascinating facts that you might not know about parsnips

1 Parsnips were made into wine and jam and added to flour for sweet cakes in 16th century Europe

2 Whilst growing, parsnips use the first cold frost to convert their starch into sugar. This gives them their sweet flavour.

3  Parsnips were considered a luxury item in ancient Rome and were served sweetened with honey or in fruit cakes and desserts

4 There are only four types of parsnip currently grown; the All-American, Andover, Avonresister and Gladiator

5 People used to believe that eating parsnips could relieve toothache or tired feet

6 Half a cup of parsnip counts as one of your five fruit and vegetables a day

7 Parsnips can grow up to 18 inches long

8 They are a good source of fibre, and vitamins B, C and E

9 The Romans believed that the parsnip could be used as an aphrodisiac

10 The parsnip is a member of the umbelliferae family and a close relative of the carrot and celery

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