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"All gardeners live in beautiful places because they make them so."

- Joseph Joubert, French moralist philosopher

Honour your roots

By Josh Evans - Creative Cook and Writer on 24 December 2012

Especially parnsips. A vastly underappreciated vegetable. We compare them in shape to carrots, which we then favour for their colours and their ability to be eaten raw as well as cooked. We compare them in colour to potatoes and cauliflower, which we favour because we think we know them a bit better. Then we compare them to celeriac, which we’ll save for another time ‘cause that one deserves its own whole paean.

Friends, enough is enough. We have forsaken this splendid root for too long. It is time to welcome it into the fold. It is time to make parsnips for dinner.

And when we have a friend to welcome, we must get to know it well. My friend Anne and I gave ourselves this challenge – to cook a meal whose every part featured parsnips in some way.

“What?” you say. “That’s it? That’s not hard at all.” Well, dear reader, you’re right.  So we made ourselves a second rule – we had to use not only parsnips in every dish, but also star anise.

Well that’s random. Why indeed star anise? Well, our friend Julian owns a fantastic spice shop here in Copenhagen called ASA, and he asked us to choose a spice, any spice, to build a recipe around and share the story at his shop (you can read about our recipe here).

But once we started brainstorming, we realised we had too many ideas – many more than we could ever fit into just one recipe! So we expanded our scope and made it into a whole meal.

It began the way some of my favourite meals do, with a careful, layered broth. We began with a simple Japanese dashi – bonito flakes (shaved from katsuobushi, a boiled, smoked, fermented, dried skipjack tuna filet) and dried kombu (Japanese kelp). Then we added a couple dried cèpes to further deepen the umami flavour, adding in chopped parsnip and a few star anise to simmer together while we turned our attention elsewhere.

Parsnips, halved, brushed with oil, and roasted until soft. Blended to a purée, with a bit of broth to soften the texture and round out the flavour, a touch of butter for body and salt to taste. Finished with star anise brown butter and fried verbena.

Meanwhile, we toss in a few leaves of verbena to finish our broth with a floral top note, let sit briefly, and strain.

Also on the menu: pickled herring. This is Scandinavia, after all. And the light texture and bright sour taste will pair well with our sweet, earthy purée and our deep umami broth.

We try plating all our components together, just to see. Somehow, it works.

And for dessert, our cake we created for Julian: parsnip cake with star anise skyr ice.

Skyr is an icelandic yoghurt that is low in fat, high in protein, and off the charts in delicious flavour and thick mouthfeel. We blend in star anise and churn it into a sort of ‘frozen yoghurt’ – tangy and spiced and perfect for our warm, dense parsnip loaf. We brown a slice in butter until frangrant, scoop on some skyr ice, add a few crumbles of granola for some crunch and extra toasty flavour, and we are ready to go.

What other neglected veg can we give this treatment to? What other spices and herbs can we rediscover? I may not want to eat every meal with only one or two dominant flavours – but it’s a good constraint, a way to force ourselves to reconsider all the possibilities of an ingredient, and a fun way to get creative in the kitchen.

Josh loves to cook, eat, read, write and adventure. He has written for Food Studies on GOOD and Grist, and is a graduate from Yale University where he worked with the Yale Sustainable Food Project. He now lives and works in Copenhagen to work with the Nordic Food Lab at Noma. You can follow his adventures in all things good food at hearthstrung.wordpress.com.

For the recipes that Josh has prepared with parsnips and skyr, click on parsnip cake and skyr.

About the author

Christina Rabe

Christina is from an African country where people live in poverty surviving only day by day, and where unemployment is the most serious problem affecting young people. Her desire for a new life encouraged…  Read full bio