The humble parsnip has had its ups and downs over the centuries.
Loved by the ancient Romans, who took it to a grateful Britain, it was demoted to animal feed in medieval times, only finding favour again among human diners hundreds of years later.
Even today, its sweet peppery flavour is barely prized in Europe - although the Italians, to their credit, at least feed parsnips to pigs destined to become prosciutto.
So it is largely left to the Brits to trumpet the virtues of this versatile winter vegetable. The jewel in their crown, of course, is roasted parsnips.
Cut into batons with (scrubbed) skin and core intact, tossed in hot olive oil and butter, sprinkled with salt and baked in a hot oven until the edges are brown and crisp, they are hard to beat - unless snuggling up to the traditional Sunday joint.
Nigella adds an American touch by enhancing the root vegetable's sweetness with maple syrup. She tosses the parsnips in oil in the roasting tin with a slosh of syrup and roasts them in a 200 degrees Celsius oven for 35 minutes, or until golden-brown. Believe me, they are every bit as good as carrots glazed with sugar and butter.
Parsnips - at their best now after some decent southern frosts - welcome strong seasonings. Curry powder and its component parts, either singly or in combination, such as cumin and ginger, work very well.
As does nutmeg. Parsnips, potatoes and swedes, for example, mashed in equal quantities into a creamy deliciousness with hot milk, plenty of butter and the warming spice, is a great mid-winter pick-me-up.
Another mash we love at our place is "parrots and carsnips", again using hot milk and butter, but this time adding a generous pinch of cumin to the mix.
Parsnip croquettes? Couldn't be easier. Make a stiff parsnip mash, roll spoonfuls in grated parmesan (or any hard cheese) and deep or shallow fry. Today's recipe, warming and homely, was just made to accompany grilled, country-style sausages; though any variety will do, from plain pork to fiery chorizo. A cousin of Northumberland's famous pan haggerty, it calls on parsnips instead of potatoes and requires a pan that suits stovetop and oven.
PARSNIP AND CHEESE BAKE
1 onion, finely chopped
a few sprigs rosemary or thyme, chopped
a few sprigs parsley, chopped
salt and freshly ground black pepper
200g coarsely grated parmesan or cheddar
200ml chicken stock
Heat oven to 200 degrees C.
Melt a knob of butter in a cast-iron casserole and fry onion until soft.
Transfer to a bowl and set aside.
Peel and slice parsnips quite thinly (2-3mm).
Meanwhile, gently melt remaining butter in a small pan.
Layer a quarter of the parsnip slices in the casserole.
Brush with melted butter, scatter with herbs and cheese and a little seasoning.
Repeat layers three times, ending with cheese.
Pour in stock.
Cover with lid or foil and bake for 35-40 minutes, or until parsnips are tender.
Remove lid and return to oven to brown - about 10 minutes.
- © Fairfax NZ News