A few nights ago, I threw together an outrageously delectable Madeira-spiked chicken stew destined to become chicken potpies. The base was chicken thighs, mire poix, lots of thyme, roasted garlic, pearl onions, cremini mushrooms, chicken broth, a splash of heavy cream, etc. A classic fricassee-like preparation, ever so delicious alone, and even better with biscuit crust. Yet the one ingredient that sent the rich flavor over the top was PARSNIPS!
The potpie inspiration came from some parsnips from a St. Patty's class on Guinness shepherd's pie. Not your average lunch-counter version. No, sir. They were rich, deeply Cheffed-Up pies. One reason for their success was adding ... anyone? PARSNIPS. Put up the phones and pay attention.
Parsnips, akin to carrots and parsley, have a fascinating history. Like most modern foods, they were first domesticated in Eurasia, then spread into Central and Western Europe, where growing conditions suited for the cool-weather-loving tuber.
After conquering regions of Gaul and Britain, where parsnips were highly cultivated, the Romans became fond of the sweet, versatile root veggies. This supports my theory that the Romans were the original foodies-no other civilization in history embraced ethnic cuisines quite like they did. I'm certain the Romans were more motivated by good eats than political power to expand their empire.
As Rome's power declined, so did parsnips' status. In France, they were peasant fare, less than even carrots, as evidenced by their absence in mire poix (base of onion, celery and carrot).
Both French and English settlers brought parsnips to North America, yet they were never popular. Why not? The sweet, floral, nutty, complex flavor is in contrast to other tubers when in roasts, soups, braises and stews. The easiest way to prepare parsnips is to simply roast them with olive oil and thyme. They also make an enticing, creamy, earthy purée or soup, or a Cheffed-Up contrast for creamed spinach. Try this soothing version before the weather gets too warm.
Chef Bill's Parsnips & Parmesan Creamed Spinach
- 2 tbsp. butter
- 1 tbsp. canola oil
- 1 pound parsnips, peeled, cut into small oblique
- 1 shallot, julienne
- 3 oz. chicken stock
- 1/2 lb. spinach
- 3/4 cup Half-and-Half
- 1/8 tsp. nutmeg
- 2 tbsp. parmesan, grated
- Cornstarch slurry as needed
- Salt and pepper to taste
1. Bring a pan of salted water to a boil. Blanch the spinach, shock in ice water. Squeeze out excess water and coarsely chop.
2. Heat a large sauté pan to medium, add oil, then butter. Add parsnips and begin to brown for a couple of minutes. Add the shallots and sweat briefly. Add the stock and simmer until parsnips begin to soften. Stock should cook almost dry.
3. Add the Half-and-Half and the nutmeg, season with salt and pepper. Simmer for a couple of minutes.
4. Add parmesan cheese. Bring back to simmer and add slurry. Add spinach, stir, adjust seasoning and texture with cornstarch slurry.
Until we cook again,
Chef Bill Thompson
Email Chef Bill Thompson, owner of Fernandina's Amelia Island Culinary Academy, at firstname.lastname@example.org, for inspiration and to get Cheffed-Up!