I am baffled by the number of people who tell me they don’t like parsnips. Somehow it feels like being punched in the stomach, so personal! And of course there is no use in attempting to convince people to like them, but this hasn’t stopped me from trying, and of course it usually backfires. Isn’t it true, that once we make up our mind about something, or someone for that matter, it’s nearly impossible to change it? So it won’t matter if I tell you how soulful they are. How wisely and beautifully designed they are for the coldness of winter with their rough and tumble exterior, which houses the most exquisite of flavors- harmonious notes of sweetness, earthiness and depth. Like my favorite kind of people. Yet you wouldn’t know this unless you took the time to get to know them. Perhaps this is not something that can be conveyed with words, but must be experienced. One thing I can do, is share a parsnip recipe that might possibly convert even the most hardened of parsnip skeptics.
I’ve found, the smell alone, will melt away much of the resistance. To me, the aroma wafting from the oven, is heavenly.
If you are interested in experimenting more with parsnips, this Roasted Parsnip Soup is one of my favorites.
Normally with recipes, I recommend playing around with them. For this recipe however, there are few tips that will help ensure a successful outcome. Firstly, do not substitute whole milk or half and half, or the gratin will end up watery. Using fresh thyme is essential. Using fresh whole nutmeg is a nice touch, but you may substitute ground nutmeg. I have substituted pecorino and manchego cheese for the gruyere and it tasted great. I have also substituted yukon gold potatoes or peeled russets for half of the parsnips, and it works well too. Using a mandolin makes this so much easier to make. If you don’t have a mandolin, slice parsnips as thinly as humanly possible. Lastly, it’s imperative to let this sit 15-20 minutes before serving, to ensure it sets up nicely and thickens.
This can be made ahead, baked ahead and reheated before serving. It’s actually quite good reheated.
It starts with peeling the parsnips.
Slice them very thinly.
Thinly slice an onion. Generously butter a 6×9 baking dish.
Begin layering parsnips, onion, gruyere and a little thyme. It’s OK if this bottom and middle part is a little messy.
Reserve some of the larger more uniform pieces of parsnip for the top and arrange in nice, even, overlapping rows.
Heat heavy cream and whisk in minced garlic, salt, fresh nutmeg, white pepper, flour and thyme.
Pour cream mixture over the layered parsnips, tilting the pan to so liquid coats all the nooks and crannies.
Top with the remaining gruyere, a sprinkling of thyme and a pinch of nutmeg.
Freshly ground nutmeg is more aromatic than the pre-ground spice. Buy whole nutmeg (often sold in jars in the spice section of supermarkets) and scrape it against the finest holes of a box grater, or use a micro-plane grater. It’s totally OK to use ground nutmeg, but whole will give the dish that extra special flavor.
When you get to know parsnips, allowing yourself to see beyond their rough exterior, you’ll discover an unexpected sweetness. It’s quite surprising.
Have you ever met someone, who perhaps, was a little rough around the edges, not someone you envisioned becoming close to, but after spending time with them, you began to understand how they got their rough exterior, and could see beyond it, to their tenderness and sweetness? I can’t tell you how many times, I’ve found beautiful and unexpected connections are, when I opened my eyes.
These are the parsnips of the world. The salt of the earth. The ones who nourish us in their own special way.
Parsnip Gratin with Gruyere and Thyme
Parsnip Gratin with melty gruyere, garlic,fresh nutmeg, thyme… the perfect vegetarian side dish, great for holidays!
- Prep Time: 20
- Cook Time: 70 minutes
- Total Time: 1 hour 30 minutes
- Yield: 6-8
- Category: Side
- 2 1/4 lbs Parsnips
- 1 med onion
- 3 Cups heavy whipping cream ( do not sub half and half or milk)
- butter for greasing pan
- 1/4 tsp fresh nutmeg ( or ground), more for the top
- 1/4 tsp white pepper
- 1 1/4 tsp kosher salt
- 1 T Fresh Thyme
- 1 T Flour or Rice Flour
- 3 large minced cloves garlic
- 6 ounces, grated gruyere cheese
Preheat oven to 400 F
Peel Parsnips. Using a mandolin, slice parsnips to 1/8 thin slices. The thinner the slices the better. If you don’t have a mandolin, slice them as thinly as possible.
Thinly slice the onion.
Grate the cheese.
Generously grease a 9 x13 inch baking dish with butter.
Layer the parsnips and onion and 1/2 of the cheese and 1/2 of the thyme, reserving the bigger pieces of parsnips for the final layer. Press down and make sure layers are even. It’s OK if the inside layers are messy. Place the last layer of parsnip slices in nice looking overlapping rows.
In a small pot heat 3 Cups whipping cream. Whisk in salt, nutmeg, the remaining thyme, white pepper, flour and the garlic and when it just comes to a simmer, pour over the layered parsnips, slanting the baking dish to get the cream in all the nooks and crannies. Sprinkle the remaining cheese over the top, a few more leaves of thyme and a little sprinkling of nutmeg. Cover securely with a lid or foil and bake for 50 minutes on the middle rack. Remove foil, pierce with fork, parsnips should be al dente. (If not- your parsnips were perhaps cut thicker that 1/8 of an inch, and you may need to cook longer with the foil on. ) Don’t worry if it seems watery at this point, bake another 15 minutes uncovered , or until golden and bubbly. It is important to let it sit at room temp for 15-20 minutes before serving, so it sets and thickens.