When I first roasted parsnips a few months back, coated in olive oil and sprinkled with salt, I did a double take when I started eating them. A double and then triple take and then, mouth still full of sweet, nutty, roasty parsnip, I narrowed my eyes.
Who exactly, I wanted to know, was responsible for the fact that I had never before realized just how delicious roast parsnips could be? Who had been holding out on me? Was it you? Or you? Or you? I needed to give whoever it was a stern talking-to.
Since then I've decided to look into that small thing called personal responsibility and blame no one but myself for the long-held notion that parsnips are to be ignored, at best, and at worst, maligned for being...too earthy and too sweet at the same time? Sort of funny-looking? A pallid version of a brilliant carrot? Who knows, people.
Now, I know it is a little obscene to be telling you about roasting parsnips on the day after Memorial Day.
(Sidenote: It's climbing to 85 degrees in Berlin today, which, if you listen to the radio here, is practically reason to fall over in a heat-related dead faint. And you know what I think is just fantastic? After 15 years on the East Coast of the United States, surviving the various heat waves that afflicted New York over the years, the 2003 blackout and the mind-bending experience of standing on a Manhattan subway platform in August for more than 23 seconds, I don't actually think 85 degrees is that hot anymore! It's spring-like. Practically reason for a light cardigan. I actually have cold feet right now! Goosebumps, slight ones, at the breeze coming through the balcony door! And, Berliners, if this is what you call humidity, then I am a lucky girl to get to live here. But I already knew that.)
Back to roasting parsnips in summertime. Yes, I know it's a little perverse. But just think of it this way: it's going to be a lot worse in a month! While you can still find parsnips at the green market and while the evenings are still cool-ish, get yourself a couple of pounds, plus some Aleppo pepper and a bit of za'atar.
My friend Suzy brought me back a stash of incredibly fragrant za'atar from her recent trip to Jordan (so fragrant that even in a Ziploc bag, it perfumes my kitchen cupboards - magical), but you can easily find it online (Kalustyan's, Zamouri Spices or Penzeys). Its composition varies slightly from one Middle Eastern country to the next, but in essence za'atar is a mixture of sesame seeds and dried thyme or marjoram and sumac. It's brilliant stuff. You can sprinkle it on flatbreads and bruschetta, on plates of hummus or sliced tomatoes. You can season summer salads with it. Boiled potatoes. Grilled meat. Plop some in a puddle of olive oil and drag fresh pita through it. Dust it on cubes of feta layered with sliced tomatoes. And roast parsnips with it.
The recipe comes from this gem of a book by Mindy Fox that I borrowed from a friend a few weeks ago and am desperately considering not giving back. All you do is cut the peeled parsnips in half or in quarters, dredge them with olive oil, Aleppo pepper, salt and za'atar and roast them in the oven until they're caramelized and crispy and sugary and salty and peppery and herbal, all at the same time.
Was that too much of a laundry list? Okay, fine, how's this: I dare you to make a full batch and not eat most of it - by yourself - standing at the kitchen counter. Serves 4, my foot. Or this: If you already thought regular roast parsnips were candy from the gods, these roasted parsnips will blow your mind. Or if you, like me, are new to the world of parsnips, don't even waste your time with any "basic" recipe. Just go straight to the motherlode. You don't even have to thank me! I'll hear your collective, contented chewing from across the world, I just know it.
Roasted Parsnips with Za'atar and Aleppo Pepper
2 teaspoons za'atar
1/4 teaspooon Aleppo pepper
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
2 pounds parsnips
2 tablespoons olive oil
1. Preheat the oven to 425 F wiith the rack in the middle of the oven.
2. In a small bowl, mix together the za'atar, Aleppo pepper and salt.
3. Peel the parsnips, cut them in half lengthwise (if they're very fat, cut them into quarters) and, in a bowl, toss them with the oil and spice mixture to coat. Arrange the parsnips in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet or baking dish. Roast for 20 minutes, then, using tongs or a spatula, turn and stir the parsnips. Continue roasting until golden, blistered and tender, 10 to 15 minutes more. The za'atar will blacken.
4. Remove from the oven and taste - if needed, you can sprinkle more of the salt and spices on the parsnips. Serve warm or at room temperature.