A winter veg with a sweeter flavour and softer texture than its mature counterpart
“We first decided to try growing piccolo parsnips because we were looking for something a bit different to bring to our customers at Christmas,” says Kath from Ted’s Veg. “We have the room on the farm to try things out, so we thought we would give them a go. The season runs from November through to March, but we see them as a seasonal treat, so as a rule we don’t grow them for the whole season. You will find them on the stall from November until about the middle of January. People have really taken to them.”
Piccolo parsnips are not a specific variety, but they are parsnips which have been harvested early. Just like other produce, this means they have different characteristics to those that have been allowed to mature. “They tend to be a little bit sweeter than the larger parsnips,” Kath explains. “They also don’t have the tough woody parts that you can find at the top and running through the core of fully grown parsnips.”
If you haven’t tried them before, though, just treat them the way you would a normal parsnip in your favourite recipes. “I don’t even peel them—just cut the long tapering bit off the end, maybe trim the top and that’s it. You should definitely give them a try if you are a fan of parsnips—or even if you’re not!”
Miniature winter vegetable
Another fan of this miniature winter vegetable is Borough Market demonstration chef and restauranteur Chris Kitch. “I really like these parsnips. They have a slightly different flavour and are softer than the larger ones, while retaining the essence of the vegetable. I happily use both at home and in the restaurants,” he says.
“One of the ways I cook them is just right for the Christmas season, when you are looking for options for the family dinners,” the chef says with real enthusiasm. “Wash them thoroughly and trim the thin straggly bit off the bottom if you want—you don’t have to. Put them in an oven dish with a little oil, bake for three or four minutes at a high temp, about 200C, making sure the oven is up to temperature before putting them in.
“The outside will go crispy and sweet, while the inside retains that earthy parsnip taste. Just keep an eye to make sure you don’t overcook them, which is all too easily done at this temperature. After you take them out, roll them in maple syrup while they are still hot and then serve them pork.
The sensory boxes
“I serve it with a chimichurri-based side dip, to which I have added plenty of onions. You get the acid from the onion, the fat from the pork and the sweet from the parsnips. It is amazing. It just ticks all the sensory boxes, with the textures and layers of flavours. I love it.”
Parsnips lend themselves to sweetness very well—a quality of theirs that people often do not take into account. “The best friend of piccolo parsnips is something a bit sweet,” he says. “It’s about being a bit adventurous and trying new things with familiar ingredients. We have all heard of carrot cake, but I make a parsnip cake with honey. People are always surprised when they hear this—which is wonderful.”