I have no strong views," said a friend, 28M, when I asked him if he liked parsnips. But here at The Moody Foodie I'm keen to give the seasonal underdogs their moment in the spotlight, and the ugliest of wintry vegetables can often be the tastiest (think Jerusalem artichokes, sprouts, a big old swede).
And they're certainly not pretty, or fashionable, and these gnarly little roots certainly get a mediocre rap, but it's their time of year. Mulled wine is being sold on the South Bank, festive lights are dazzling the Strand, and Michael Buble has been wheeled out of the cupboard to provide the soundtrack to the weekly Sainsbury's shop. It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas, and on many Christmas tables that means parsnips.
But sadly, they too often mean an unsatisfying afterthought. They don't quite have the solid gravitas of the roast potato, nor the comforting blandness of the carrot. Too often, they're also just a bit unappetising - the squelchy, mushy, flatulent chunks of sugary weirdness that we used to get at school.
Well, try these Christmas Parsnips. Not least because I got a new festive board and wanted to show it off, but also because they give the underrated root a moment to shine. On a bed of a whipped stilton crème fraiche, speckled with black pepper. Roasted until just crisping with piquant cranberries straight from the store cupboard. Piled high on the board and topped generously with toasted walnuts and parsley, the green flecks refreshing on a Christmas table. I was a fan.
I told a (different) friend that I wanted to make an oozy, cheesy, Parsnip Toastie, the insides sharpened with red onion, the outsides crisp and buttery, ready to be dipped in a hot and sweet chilli jam.
They said “that sounds great and all, but why bother with the parsnip?”.
Well, I have now made it and I can say confidently “the parsnip makes this toastie”. The nuttiness against the butter-fried bread? The starch, sliced through by the heat of the chilli and the tart red onion? That slight undertone of winter spice, paired with a melting cheddar. Bother with the parsnip – it’s really, really good.
Next this week came a Parsnip Tarte Tatin, which was quick and simple and made the kitchen smell of thyme and sticky vinegar and roots. Easy and one-pan - what's not to like?
Finally, on some nights you just want to curl up under the blanket with some Netflix episodes and a smokey bowl of cream. On a night like that, I made this Smoked Haddock, Parsnip and Bacon Chowder. It's not the best-looking of dishes, but that's parsnips for you, and the smoke of the haddock and bacon is irresistible with the sweet earthiness of the parsnips. It’s a winner for me.
Eating an entire week's worth of parsnips is not something I'll readily do again. But this versatile Market Star can be seriously satisfying, and brings a bit of festive cheer to the December table.