The feast of Samhain on All Hallows eve heralds the year’s beginning and with it, the coming of the dead and the dark. The dead return to wreak havoc on the living. The darkness, in thin November, overtakes the light. It’s this time of year when food’s most basic role becomes its most valuable – to nourish and steady. And one of the finest ingredients for such: the milky, golden parsnip.
A mild early autumn sees the first frosts coming not until November. Once they have arrived in earnest so too will the parsnip. The chill sweetens the root by turning its starch to sugar.
If you’re happy with the quality of your parsnips, then it’s generally best to leave the skin on, as in them, and the flesh just underneath them, there is much flavour.
Parsnip and mint salad
Parsnips, butter and watercress
This is an occasion in which a good Irish rapeseed oil will be at least as apt as the lushest of Italian olive oils.
Kerry Gold, with its high water content, is a champion butter for cooking with, but it can overwhelm when used like a dressing, as here. Unsalted is best.
Best to use warmed plates or else the butter will congeal.
With your oil and some wine vinegar, make a dressing – a touch sharper, more peppery and more mustardy than usual,
Boil the parsnips (whole if thin, quartered lengthwise if fat) in salted water until very tender. Pop them back in the pan when drained, with some butter, and a little salt if they need it. Give the pan a shake, lid on, with vigour. Dress the watercress. Serve the half-broken apart, buttery parsnips and the watercress alongside.
Parsnips, beetroot and sage
Peel the beetroot and slice thin. Drop into salted boiling water and when tender, drain, reserving the liquid. Give the beetroot a blitz with a little light oil, an even littler – barely even noticeable – squeeze of lemon juice, and salt and pepper to taste.
Fry some sage leaves in hot oil. They’ll be done when the fizzing subsides. Scoop them onto kitchen paper and sprinkle with salt.
Boil peeled parsnips until tender. Mash them, the best you can, in a hot dry pan. Fold through some butter, salt, pepper and some ground mace. When its cool, form into flat little cakes. Flour, egg and breadcrumbs. Fry in butter over a steady, medium heat until golden brown. Then serve with the beetroot puree and crispy sage.
Parsnip and pistachio cake
here are some quantities for a 9ish inch cake tin:
zest from a third of a washed orange and a third of a washed lemon
7 oz. butter
10 oz sugar
18 oz parsnip
12 oz flour
tsp. baking powder
pinch of salt
a half handful of unsalted pistachios
Lube up your cake tin with some butter, then shake around some flour, so you’ve thin layer of both. Keep in the fridge until you need it.
Grate the parsnips as small as you can and then chop through so the textures not too tistict. Cut the pistachios in half, lengthwise. Melt the butter in a pan.
Separate the yolks and whites of three eggs. Beat together the yolks and the sugar with a wooden spoon. Add and stir the parsnips and a little finely chopped orange and lemon zest. Pour in the butter, leaving the white sediment that has sunk to the bottom. Then the flour and baking powder, sifted. Then whisk the egg whites with a pinch of salt, until stiff. Stir in a third with the pistachios, and then gently fold in the rest. Then into the cake tin and bake in a medium hot oven. When golden brown on top, turn the heat down to low and bake for another twenty minutes. Let it cool in the tin for twenty minutes and then on a rack. Eat with cups of tea.
Image by Fiona Hallinan