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A group of British researchers has a hunch<em> </em>that once ancient humans learned to cook, starchy foods like root vegetables or grasses could have given them a calorie bump that fueled the evolution of the human brain.
Scott Sherrill-Mix/Flickr
A group of British researchers has a hunch that once ancient humans learned to cook, starchy foods like root vegetables or grasses could have given them a calorie bump that fueled the evolution of the human brain.

I remember as a little boy I loved the story of Peter Rabbit raiding the turnip patch. However, as plausible as that story is, I now think that what Mr. R was looking for were parsnips, a root vegetable that I consider to be far superior to plain old turnips. Chef Jerry Pellegrino believe, like I do, that parsnips deserve a great deal more of our attention?

For starters, if you think the parsnip is related to the carrot, you'd be correct.

Same family, same idea. Whereas most carrots are orange, the parsnip is pale, almost cream colored. Its base is quite fat, and its tail is quite skinny.

In aroma and flavor the parsnip is more aromatic than a carrot but perhaps not quite as sweet. Its aroma is sort of a cross between lavender and licorice, and it's flavor doesn't vary much from that. And in terms of nutrition, the parsnip is loaded with good things.

Although you can eat the parsnip raw, it is usually cooked. So here some ideas.

The most basic idea is roasted parsnips. Simply trim and peel them, and then cut them into bite sized chunks. Toss with olive oil, season with salt and pepper and spread them out on a baking sheet. Pop them into a 350° oven for about a half hour. They will caramelize and release their wonderful flavors.

You can do an easy variation on this by also tossing the parsnips with honey, cumin and paprika.

Parsnips are easy to mash up and they make a great purée. Simply boil them until they are quite tender, and then blitz them in your food processor with a little butter and cream. Season with salt and white pepper and you're good to go.

Parsnips team up nicely with other root vegetables: turnips, carrots, rutabagas, potatoes and onions play well together. Try roasting them and them coarsely mashing them along with bacon bits. You'll have a very appealing root vegetable hash to put on the table.

In France parsnips are often added to a basic potato, leek and onion soup. You can add them raw, or to bring out their flavor, give them a quick roast in the oven. Although you can serve the soup chunky, you can also refine it with a minute or two with your submersible blender.

If you trim and peel the skin off your parsnips, you can just keep peeling and make a bowl full of "noodles". Add them to whatever you're cooking for unique texture and flavor, or use them raw as a garnish for a salad. (And won't they go extremely well with apple pieces!)

And finally here is a nice little recipe we concocted. It's a chickpea and parsnip stew.


1 yellow onion (150 g), chopped 1 1/2 tbsp curry powder 3 garlic cloves, finely chopped 3 medium parsnips (300 g), cubed 3 medium carrots (300 g), cubed 1/4 head green cabbage (300 g), thinly sliced 2 tbsp tomato paste 1 pound cooked chickpeas

2 cups chicken broth 1/2 cup cream 1 tbsp bouillon powder Canola oil, salt and black pepper


  • Heat up a generous splash of canola oil in a large pot over medium-low heat. Sauté onions with curry for about 5 min.
  • Add in garlic, parsnips, carrots and cabbage and continue cooking for 2-3 min.
  • Add in tomato paste and chickpeas and cook for another 2-3 min.
  • Pour in water and oat based cream, add bouillon powder and give it a good stir. Bring to a boil, lower the temperature and let simmer (covered) for 15-20 min, or until parsnip and carrot cubes are cooked through. Stir once in a while.
  • In the meantime, cook grain of your choice according to package instructions.
  • When the veggies are done, season to taste with salt and black pepper and serve over a scoop of grain and with optional toppings right away.

Al Spoler, well known to WYPR listeners as the wine-loving co-host of "Cellar Notes" has had a long-standing parallel interest in cooking as well. Al has said, the moment he started getting serious about Sunday night dinners was the same moment he started getting serious about wine. Over the years, he has benefited greatly from being a member of the Cork and Fork Society of Baltimore, a gentlemen's dining club that serves black tie meals cooked by the members themselves who are some of Baltimore's most accomplished amateur cooks.
Executive Chef Jerry Pellegrino of Corks restaurant is fascinated by food and wine, and the way they work in harmony on the palate. His understanding of the two goes all the way to the molecular level, drawing on his advanced education in molecular biology. His cuisine is simple and surprising, pairing unexpected ingredients together to work with Corks' extensive wine offerings.