Posts Tagged 'Parsnip Pie'

buried treasure

Living in Northern Wisconsin has it’s perks, to be sure. But it also means coming to terms with being a step or two behind most of the world. Fashion trends, for instance, typically don’t make their way up here until they are already on their way out in most places. Or, wait. Do they ever even make it up here? Not really sure on that. Likewise, when the spring barrage of cooking mags start pouring in with glorious photos of rhubarb and spring peas, I take it with a grain of salt. I’m lucky if I get my first pea harvest by the end of June.

I know to set my new throng of must-try seasonal recipes aside for at least another month or two. Still, my heart goes pitter-patter at the mere thought of fresh produce. On a whim I go out to check my most promising contender – the parsnip patch. I plant a few rows of parsnips every summer. Half of them I devour in the fall, and half I leave well mulched in the ground for a spring feast. Parsnips are good in the fall, but they’re even better after a winter underground. The frost converts some of their starch to sugar and gives them an unbeatable subtle sweetness.

parsnips

I grab the yard stick on the way out the door. As I suspected, things do not look promising. My gnarly jewels are buried under thirty-six inches of hard snow pack. I desperately rack my brain for some of the benefits of living on Lake Superior. There must be some, I’m sure of it, but at the moment all I can focus on is my hidden treasure. Clearly this is going to require some human intervention. I strike hard with my shovel, keeping my eyes on the prize. It becomes immediately obvious that my plastic tool is no match for 3 feet of snow that has repeatedly thawed and frozen over the season.

Time for the big guns. I summon my husband Mark and his unwieldy beast of a snow blower. I doubt I’ll even have to plead. Mark is sort of a snow blowing nut. He must find it satisfying work. Halfway through the winter I discovered an amazing labyrinth of paths criss crossing the upper half of our property. I had no idea. When I confronted him about it, he burst out singing “Don’t Fence Me In” and claimed that a fella needs to roam. Did I mention we have long winters?

spring garden

We concur that the parsnips are indeed a noble cause and Mark fires up the beast. Of course the ground is still frozen solid underneath, but we’ve made headway at least. A few weeks of spring weather is all it will take for the parsnips to start poking their heads above ground. And you can bet that I’ll be out there muscling my way through to them with a pitch fork at the first sign of a thaw.

Luckily, in the meantime, I’ve got a few parsnips lingering in the crisper from our winter CSA share. I like to mix parsnips in with other root vegetables for roasting, and equally, I love a creamy potato-parsnip mashup, but my favorite way to prepare parsnips is to feature them head on in a simple parsnip pie. It really lets them shine in an easy, comfort food sort of way way.

parsnip pie

Brown Butter Parsnip Pie

1 9-inch unbaked pastry shell*
1 1/2  pounds (roughly) parsnips
2 tablespoons tahini
3 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoon lightly crushed pecans
Salt, pepper, nutmeg

Peel and dice the parsnips. You want enough to fill the pie pan, so you can sort of eyeball or do a dry test run before you line the pie shell. Steam the parsnips until tender, about 10 minutes. While they steam, roll out the pie crust and line the pan. Brown the butter in a small sauce pan until it is nutty and fragrant, but not at all burnt. Mash the steamed parsnips with the butter and tahini and spoon the mixture into the pie shell. Leaving a few lumps of parsnips is a-okay. Fold over any edges of crust and sprinkle the top with salt, pepper and a dusting of nutmeg. Bake at 350ºF for 15 minutes. At this point, scatter the crushed pecans over the top and continue to bake for another 10 – 15 minutes,

* My standard note on the pie shell: after trying many recipes and methods, I’ve settled on Alice Waters’ pie dough in The Art of Simple Food as my standby. It is easy, straightforward, and has yet to let me down. But a frozen store bought shell would work just as well.

pie gone

gussy up!

It might be time for an intervention. I planted another bed of garlic yesterday. It was a small bed, but just the same, I agreed to be done planting two weeks ago. My lunch is what got me into trouble. A quick meal of fusili tossed with the season’s final tray of roasted tomatoes, parmesan cheese, and a handful of garlic sautéed in butter. But it wasn’t just any garlic. It was a smooth Italian softneck that really shines as the star of simple pasta dishes. And for reasons I’m not at all certain of, I didn’t set much seed aside for my initial planting. Luckily I realized the error of my ways in the nick of time. I went out to the shed after lunch to rummage through our eating stock and found just enough plantable size cloves to put in a few rows. But that was it. No more. To distract myself from any further temptation, I devoted the rest of the afternoon to bringing in the last of the carrots, parsnips, potatoes, and beets.
This is the time of year when choosing between which of the root vegetables to prepare is still new and exciting. Young love. I treasure it, because I know the burden I’ll feel come February when I have to hack into yet another winter squash. But when that stage hits, I’ll turn to my garlic to help pull me through. Nothing dresses up baked squash, mashed potatoes, or roasted beets better than some caramelized garlic squeezed over the top. I just put a handful of peeled cloves in a little foil packet with some salt, pepper, and olive oil drizzled over the top and let them roast alongside the chosen accomplice. It seems to make everything more bearable.
Not that I wait around for the doldrums of winter to start roasting garlic, mind you. Fall officially kicks off around here with the first plate of roasted heads. The simplest method is to slowly roast whole heads in a 325º F oven until garlic is soft and aromatic – anywhere from forty five minutes to an hour depending on the garlic. The garlic will effortlessly squeeze out of its papers onto bread, pasta, crackers, baked potatoes and anything else you happen to have at the table. Prep for this is quick and easy – just thumb most of the outer papers off of whole heads, remove any dirt from the root end, and then use a sharp knife to trim the very tops of the bulbs off, leaving the tips of the cloves exposed. Put the heads in an appropriately sized oven proof dish with a lid (foil will do in a pinch), drizzle some good olive oil over the heads and sprinkle with coarse salt and pepper. It’s hard to go wrong.
But sometimes I like to gussy it up a bit. This is how I served tonight’s garlic, with a humble parsnip pie to accompany it. A glass of Sangiovese, some Tetzner’s cinnamon ice cream for dessert, and our good friend Jim to share it all with made it a November meal to be proud of.
Fancy-Pants Baked Garlic
whole heads of garlic
butter
vegetable or chicken stock
wine (I prefer to use white, but since we rarely drink it, I often use red)
coarse salt
fresh ground pepper
bleu or feta cheese
Clean most of the outer papers off of how ever many whole heads you’d like to bake and trim away any dirt from the root end. Use a sharp knife to trim the very tops of the bulbs off, leaving the tips of the cloves exposed. Put the heads in an appropriately sized oven proof dish with a lid and add a little broth and a splash of wine. You want enough liquid in the dish so the heads are about half covered. Dot each head with a small pat of butter, and sprinkle with coarse salt and pepper. With the lid on, bake the garlic in a 325º F oven. As the garlic roasts, periodically baste the garlic heads, spooning the broth into the center of each head. When the garlic is soft and aromatic (about a forty five minutes to an hour depending on the garlic) remove from the oven and crumble a handful of good bleu or feta cheese over the heads. Replace the lid and let it sit for about 5 minutes. Serve the garlic, broth and all, with plenty of good crusty bread. Be sure to soak up some of the luscious broth along with the garlic. This makes a great appetizer or side for any fall or winter meal. Any left over heads (yeah, right) can be refrigerated and added to soups or sauces for extra flavor.