Discovering Parsnip

Discovering Parsnip

3 minute read

I was looking through old cookbooks last night and happened upon one that I had bought in the early 90s, written by a Singaporean chef who owned a restaurant in San Francisco. Tucked away by the back flap was the menu from the restaurant itself: my husband Dino and I had made it a point to dine there when we spent a few days in San Francisco thirty years ago. I mentioned this to Dino as we leafed though the cookbook, and we recalled how on that same trip, we had eaten at one of Wolfgang Puck’s restaurants, where we had tasted our first parsnip.

Was it in a soup? Or a sauce? We don’t remember exactly what dish at Puck's restaurant featured the parsnip. But what we remember precisely is the feeling when we both realized we had no idea what the flavor was blooming in our mouths. Floral, earthy, reminiscent of chestnuts, it was at once familiar and utterly unknown. It was parsnip.

The dinner at Puck’s was worth it just for that moment of discovery. There are few pleasures that equal the joy of tasting something delicious for the first time; it opens up new culinary worlds, it awakens new culinary sensibilities, it ignites new culinary creativity. I have often told myself that on every trip to the grocery store, I should pick up a fruit, vegetable, cheese, spice, or flour that I am unfamiliar with. (To be honest, I don’t always make good on that promise, forgetting it half the time as I consult my shopping list. But when I do remember to seek out something unknown, I am usually rewarded with at the worst a few interesting meals and some fun research, and at best a new ingredient that becomes a staple in our kitchen.)

Since then, we’ve cooked and eaten a lot of parsnip. I boil it and roast it; I air-fry it in thick sticks; I make creamy soups with it; I whip it into mashed potatoes; and I make a delicious vegetable sformato with it, as in the recipe below. If you aren’t familiar with parsnip, do try it. You might just be in for a bit of culinary epiphany.

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Creamy Parsnip Sformato

In Italy, there is a class of dishes that goes by the name sformato, from the word forma, which means mold or shape. Like frittata, a close cousin, a savory sformato is egg-based, but it is heavier on the vegetables, creamy in texture, baked in a mold, then unmolded (hence the name) before serving.

I make sformati with whatever vegetables I have on hand; in the winter, butternut squash, parsnip, fennel, and cauliflower are favorites. If using a starchy or fibrous vegetable (like the four mentioned above), I find it best to boil the vegetable before puréeing it; watery vegetables such as mushrooms or eggplants do better sautéed fist, then puréed. And while I bake sformati in individual ramekins for company, I usually bake a sformato in one large soufflé dish if it’s just the two of us sharing it. Cast iron or enameled cast iron skillets like the one pictured here are a great baking vessel too. In this case, I serve the sformato still in the skillet or soufflé dish, and it’s so comforting to dig in while the sformato is still hot from the oven!

Serves 2

  • 5 grams (1 teaspoon) unsalted butter
  • 30 grams (1 ounce) freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
  • 180 grams (6 ounces) parsnip, peeled and cut small dice (weigh after peeling)
  • 1 tablespoon plus ¼ teaspoon sea salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 60 grams (2 ounces) young goat cheese
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 large egg whites
  1. Preheat the oven to 375° convection or 400° regular.
  2. Butter the bottom and sides of an 8-inch cast iron or enameled cast iron skillet. Sprinkle the bottom and sides of the skillet with 5 grams (1 tablespoon) of the grated Parmigiano.
  3. Bring 1 quart (1 liter) of water to a boil. Drop in the parsnip and 1 tablespoon of the salt. Boil 3 minutes, or until the parsnip is fork-tender, then drain and cool under running water. Blot dry thoroughly before proceeding or the sformato will be watery.
  4. Place the parsnip, the remaining 1/4 teaspoon of the salt, the remaining 25 grams (3 tablespoons) of the Parmigiano, the nutmeg, pepper, goat cheese, and whole eggs in the bowl of a food processor. Process until smooth, then transfer to a bowl.
  5. In a clean bowl, beat the egg whites with a whisk until soft peaks hold; the whites should hold their shape when the bowl is turned upside down. If they do not hold their shape, beat a little longer. Fold gently into the parsnip mixture, being careful not to deflate it.
  6. Spoon into the prepared skillet. Immediately bake in the preheated oven for 20 minutes, or until golden, set, and puffed. Serve immediately.


vegetables parsnip parmigiano goat cheese eggs