While waiting impatiently for spring shoots, we have to continue to enjoy our roots. This is the time of year that I start getting bored with the usual winter suspects and turn to the less common (and less appreciated) roots.
Parsnips, for example, are terribly underrated. They’re shaped like carrots and they’re sweet like carrots, but they have an herbaceous, almost wild flavor. This recipe would make a nice Sunday dinner accompaniment to serve with roasted chicken, fish or lamb. Or add a salad or some braised greens along with a whole grain and you have a comforting and satisfying vegetarian winter meal.
Last of Winter Parsnip, Mushroom and Leek Gratin
1 1 /2 pound parsnips
1 tablespoon butter plus more for buttering dish
2 tablespoons olive oil
4-5 ounces mixed fresh mushrooms (king trumpets, oysters or whatever is fresh and local), cleaned and sliced
3 leeks, white and light green parts, cleaned and sliced lengthwise
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
1/3 cup dry white wine
1 cup Parmesan cheese
1 3/4 cup heavy cream
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Peel parsnips and slice about 1/4 inch thick on an extreme angle so as to get the largest slices possible. Butter a 12 x 8 inch baking dish and preheat the oven to 400 ° F.
In a medium skillet, over medium high heat, warm the butter and olive oil. Add mushrooms and leeks along with a pinch of salt and sauté, stirring occasionally, until they release all of their liquid and begin to brown. Add thyme and white wine and cook, stirring, until wine evaporates. Set aside.
Begin to layer the ingredients into the dish beginning with a single layer of parsnip slices, followed by salt and pepper, followed by half of the leek/mushroom mixture and half the Parmesan. Repeat with parsnips, more salt and pepper, the remaining leek/mushroom mixture, and most of the remaining Parmesan, reserving a little for the top.
The final layer should consist of the remaining parsnips. Pour the cream over and push down with the back of a spoon to submerge everything as much as possible. Sprinkle the remaining Parmesan on top and cover with foil. Bake for 30 minutes. Uncover and check for tenderness, and continue to bake if necessary. When the parsnips are nearly tender, uncover and continue to bake uncovered for an additional 15 minutes or until the top begins to brown and all the cream has been absorbed. Let sit for about 10 minutes before serving to allow the cream to thicken.
Recipe Copyright Vanessa Barrington 2010
Note: Use local and organic ingredients whenever possible. As shown with Alaskan halibut.
Image: Danielle Scott