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I thought I might have left these a bit too long. I found them in a bed that the chooks are about to go into, lost and forgotten parsnips. They would be about nine months old, and in a few weeks they will want to go to seed.  But I harvested them in time and they were smooth and sweet and very delicious, Just the big one on its own was enough for a main meal for two of us that turned into one of the best Tuesday Night Vego Challenge recipes of the year.

Once they’re established, parsnips are amazingly hardy and productive.  The hard part is getting them going. I germinate them the same way I germinate carrots – in the shadehouse in little leaf pots.  You need fresh seed, and you need to keep them moist for quite a long time till they come up.  I love parsnips, and I can get them most of the year, but the best ones are the ones harvested in winter, which are the ones planted in late spring – the absolute hardest time to keep things moist for weeks while they decide to germinate.

Once they’re established though, they cope with even the hot dry of summer and the frosts of winter and yield a lot of food for the space they take.

Parsnips make the most amazing mash – very low GI, low calorie, but smooth and luscious and much sweeter than potato mash.  And full of soluble and insoluble fibre and lots of vitamins and minerals.

The Recipe:

Start with the mushroom and onion gravy.

You need a big, heavy bottomed fry pan, or if you are making this for more than a couple of people, a big wok.

Finely slice one onion per person and 150 grams of mushrooms per person.  It will look like a lot, but it reduces right down.

Melt a knob of butter and a swig of a sweet, mild flavoured oil.  I prefer macadamia or peanut oil for this – olive oil has its own flavour. Add the onions and mushrooms and cook on high, stirring, for a few minutes.  Add about half a teaspoon per person of finely chopped fresh thyme and a pinch of salt.  Then turn the heat right down and continue cooking for around 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Move on to the parsnip mash:

Peel one normal sized parsnip per person and chop into smallish pieces.

Pressure cook for 5 minutes or simmer for 15 till the parsnip is quite soft when poked with a fork.

Blend the parsnip in a food processor or with a stick blender, along with a little knob of butter, a pinch of salt, and, if needed, a little milk or a little of its own cooking water, till it is very smooth.

Assembling:

You want the parsnip mash to be served warm, so assemble everything else before you blend it.

I lightly steamed some peas and snow peas to have with it – a bit of crunch is good.

To the onions and mushrooms, add some plain wholemeal flour and stir it through to coat.  For two people, I used a tablespoon of flour. If you are making four serves, you will need more flour, but less than double – probably two scant tablespoons.

Add, for each serve, a dessertspoon of Worcestershire sauce, then add water.  You will need about half a cup per person, but add it bit by bit till you get the right consistency. It should thicken up almost immediately to a nice thick gravy consistency.

Make a ring of mash on each plate and fill the centre with onion and mushroom gravy.  Garnish with peas and snow peas and serve.

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Perfect party finger food. The recipe makes about 20 tartlets.

The Pastry:

In the food processor, put

  • 1½ cups of wholemeal plain flour,
  • 3 dessertspoons of butter
  • pinch salt

Blend for a minute until it resembles breadcrumbs. Add just enough cold water to make a soft dough.  Add it  carefully, spoonful at a time.  Put your dough in the fridge to cool down while you start the onions off.

The Caramelised Onions

Finely slice 4 large onions.

Finely chop a tablespoon of fresh thyme

In a big, heavy bottomed pan, cook the onions and thyme over a low heat, stirring occasionally, with 50 grams of butter and the same amount of olive oil until they are soft and translucent.  The trick is to keep the heat low enough so that they don’t brown.  It will take half an hour or so.

Add 70 ml (about 5 skinny tablespoons) of balsamic vinegar and 2 good tablespoons of brown sugar and continue cooking until the onions are covered in sticky syrup rather than liquid.

Assembling:

While the onions are cooking, roll out the pastry. Sprinkle flour on your benchtop and roll it out quite thin. Use a saucer to  cut 10 cm circles and put each in a cup of a greased muffin tray. The recipe makes about 20 tartlets, so you will need two trays (or two rounds of baking).

Put a dessertspoon of onions in each tart.

Top each with a little slice – a teaspoon size – of soft white cheese.  I used white castello for these, but brie or camembert or goat cheese or danish feta all work well too.

Bake in a medium oven for around 25 minutes until the pastry is golden and the cheese is melted through and golden on top.  Watch them at the end that the onion doesn’t burn.

Best served cold as a canape.

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