Recipe: Parsnip Mac-N-Cheese + the other wonders of parsnips

Parsnips from Riverbank Farm
I once hated parsnips, and, with good reason. After a day filled with weeding parsnip beds last summer, my forearms became marked with horrible parsnips burns later that evening, similar to those of poison sumac. (I still have scars on my arms!) There may have been second-season growth or a wild parsnip in the bed somewhere, but I didn't go near them for the entire season. Fast forward to a new year, plenty of long-sleeved clothing and a desire to get outside after the tough winter, and I've turned an enemy into a culinary friend.

Parsnips are such a versatile vegetable, yet they confuse people. Parsnips are available now from many local sources. Since they've wintered over, their sugars have developed and are sweeter than those harvested in the fall. They can be a substitute for carrots, but they also have their own merits. They are a vitamin and mineral-rich vegetable, loaded with fiber, folic acid, copper, manganese, vitamin C, B6 and E. Yet, they often receive the same cooking treatment: Arbitrarily thrown into soups. Well, they're delicious like that, but here are a few other ways to stretch their value and get them into your diet.
~ Roast them: Roast alone, or with other veggies, in a 400ºF-oven for 40-45 minutes (or until fork-tender). Toss with a little olive oil, salt + pepper. Add roasted garlic and/or 1-2 Tbls of local maple syrup to make extra delicious! (Maple syrup is being boiled right now - prime time to get a batch.)

~ Make a salad or raw slaw: Grate parsnips along with some carrots, celeriac and/or jicama. Add your favorite dressing and let marinate. Great salad topper!

~ Bake with them: Mmmm...parsnip-ginger muffins. Use in place of carrots in your favorite baked good recipe. So yummy!

~ Mash ‘em: Mashed or pureed parsnips make any dish creamy and flavorful. Boil or steam for 10-15 minutes until fork-tender, then, blend for the desired texture. Add to mashed potatoes, soups or serve alone for a tasty side dish.
I created this recipe to highlight the wonders of pureed parsnips...
Parsnip Mac-N-Cheese w/Caramelized Onions, Sun-dried Tomatoes and Spinach
Parsnip sauce*:
- 2 Tbls. butter
- 2 Tbls. flour (unbleached all-purpose, spelt or brown rice all work)
- 1/4 c. heated milk (raw cow, goat or unflavored almond, soy or rice all work here)
- 1 c. of pureed parsnips (3-4 large parsnips - peel, cut and boiled or steamed, then pureed)
- 1/4-1/2 c. of grated cheese (maple-smoked cheddar or some aged cheese work well in this)
- healthy grind of your pepper mill
- 4 dehydrated tomatoes - re-hydrated in hot water for 5 minutes, then finely chopped
- 2 c. fresh chopped spinach, or frozen chopped spinach, thawed
(*The sauce I make contains dairy, but not much of it. The butter and milk can easily be substituted with vegan alternatives. The cheese is up to you if you want to add it. If not, just puree more parsnips.)

Caramelized Onions:
- 1 Tbl. of olive oil
- 2 medium onions/1 large onion - sliced thinly

- 1 lb. of your favorite macaroni pasta (brown rice and quinoa pasta are great substitutes for regular pasta; it also makes the recipe gluten-free, if you've also used a gluten-free flour for the sauce.)
  1. Prepare your pasta according to the direction on the package. When done, remove from heat, drain and put into a casserole pan.
  2. In a saute pan, heat the olive oil on medium heat. Add your onions and cook until they caramelize - 8-10 minutes. Set aside.
  3. Preheat your oven to 350°F.
  4. Sauce time: In a heavy-bottomed sauce pan, add the butter until melted, but before browning. Add the flour, and whisk until dissolved and becomes paste-like. Add the warm milk and continue stirring until well incorporated. Add the cheese, pepper, chopped tomatoes and spinach, and combine, stirring for about 2 minutes, or until the mixture coats the spoon. Remove from heat.
  5. Add the sauce to the pasta in the casserole pan until the noodles are well-coated. Sprinkle the top with any reserved grated cheese and an even layer of the caramelized onions. Bake for 30 minutes or until the top is golden brown.
  6. Eat.
I didn't have a chance to take a picture of this, but it does look pretty! And, I've prepared this for kids and picky adults alike, all without complaint. Enjoy!