Parsnip - our vegetable of the month for January

Parsnips are known for their light colour and sweet taste, featuring in the British Sunday roast and Christmas dinner. They are high in antioxidants, potassium and fibre. Parsnips can be added to soups, served boiled, mashed, roasted or even fried as crisps.

Vegetable Origins & Varieties

Parsnip: Pastinaca sativa Umbelliferae
This ancient root vegetable is thought to have originated around the eastern Mediterranean. The early Greeks and Romans knew it as did the Celts – Pliny mentions that it flourished along the Rhine. Before sugar cane and sugar beet were grown extensively parsnips were a good source of sweetness although probably an acquired taste. In Italy the pigs that produce Parma ham are fed on parsnips.
We don’t grow many parsnips in the Skip garden because they need a deep soil (90cm) and take about 8 months to harvest but we will be growing them in our new Broadgate Beds (just outside our gate).

Growing tips & Harvesting

Germination of parsnip seeds can be erratic, the seeds don’t store well for long periods so always use fresh stock. They germinate at temperatures over 7.5 degrees C so make sure the soil is warm before sowing. Sandy loose soils are better then heavy clay soils for growing this crop. Because of the slow germination sow radish as markers between the rows. For maximum sweetness harvest after the first frost. The carrot fly also attacks this crop so sow thinly to reduce the need for thinning when the smell can attract this fly.

Storing & Preparation

Parsnips can be stored in the ground, if protected from all but the first frost. They can also be stored, with their green tops removed, but not scrubbed, in layers of sand. Any damaged vegetables should be removed and used first. At home they will last a few weeks in a plastic bag in the vegetable draw of a fridge.  Larger, older parsnips may need peeling, and cutting into chunks before cooking. They can then be roasted for 40minutes or boiled for 15minutes until tender. The centre core can be fibrous and saved for stock.

My favourite Recipes

Maple roasted Parsnips


4 parsnips
Oil to coat
Maple syrup
Salt and pepper
Cut parsnips in half across and then lengthways into halves/quarters. Cover with oil, season and roast at 200degreesC for 30minutes. Take them out, drizzle with maple syrup and roast for another 10 minutes.

Warm Lentil, Parsnip & Apple Salad


Serves 4
Selection of salad leaves
300g cooked green/brown lentils
2 dessert apples
4 parsnips
4 sprigs rosemary
curly kale
25g toasted pumpkin seeds
1 lemon
Olive oil
Salt & pepper

2tbsps olive oil
1tsp cider vinegar
1⁄2tsp Dijon mustard
1⁄2tsp honey

Wash & peel the parsnips, cut into batons. Place in a roasting tray with the rosemary, drizzle with oil, season and roast for 25 minutes at 180 degreesC
Remove the stalks from the kale and tear into pieces. Drizzle with oil, season and add squeeze of lemon. Roast at 180 degreesC for 10minutes or until crisp.
Wash and cut the apples into wedges, removing the core and seeds. Heat 1 tbsp of oil in a pan and add the apples with a squeeze of lemon. Sauté until they are soft and lightly coloured-a lid on the pan can encourage this.
Whisk dressing ingredients until emulsified, season.
Use half the dressing on the salad leaves and arrange on a platter. Combine the parsnips, apple and lentils in a pan and warm. Spoon onto the salad leaves and drizzle over the remaining dressing. Sprinkle with toasted sunflower seeds and kale crisps.

Final words

In soup parsnips add rich flavour and the water used when boiling them is high in starch so useful to thicken dishes. When harvesting keep in mind that the leaves/stem have a toxic sap which can cause a rash. Although traditionally cooked, parsnips may maintain their nutrients more when they are raw and can be grated into a salad.