There is little which compares to the smell and taste of honey-roast parsnips lifted straight out of the oven; here is a food which gets me giddy with excitement! Not necessarily so for those ancient Romans and Greeks. Pliny's advice is to boil the life out of them so that you might rid them of their pungent flavour. Aretaeus, the ancient Greek physician, describes them as "bad, even when boiled... (The parsnip is) flatulent and swells in the stomach." On the plus side however, Pliny reckons that if you simply carry one with you, you'll never be stung by serpents, and it does offer at least some excitement; it is a well known fact, apparently, that it is a powerful aphrodisiac!
We're lucky that somebody decided parsnip was worth a go - the Apicius volume contains quite a lot of parsnip recipes. Let's see how they taste.
Parsnip Mash with Salt Pork
(Serves 1 - multiply quantities accordingly for more)
"Mash the parsnips, then add cumin, rue, liquamen, passum, oil, coriander leaves, and leeks. Serve. Goes well with salt pork." - Apicius, 3.20.4
- 2 Slices Of Bacon or Salt Pork
- 1 Parsnip
- 1 Inch Of Leek
- 1 tsp Coriander
- 1/4 tsp Cumin Seeds
- 1/2 tsp Rue
- 1 tbsp Liquamen
- 1 tbsp Olive Oil
- 1/2 tbsp Passum
- Chop the parsnip up into chunks - this makes for easier boiling and mashing. Add them to a pan of boiling water for 15-20 minutes, or until done.
- Meanwhile, toast the cumin seeds and grind with the rue, coriander, and leek. Mix this with the liquamen, passum, and olive oil.
- If using bacon, grill or fry it. If you are using salt pork, boil it in water for a few minutes before frying it, or else it will be unbearably salty.
- When the parsnip is boiled, drain away the water and mash it up. Add all of the herbs, spices, and liquids. Mix this together so that it is well blended. Serve with the pork and enjoy.
Bacon and parsnip make for good bed-fellows - the sweetness of the parsnip compliments (and counteracts) the saltiness of the meat, making this an ideal pairing, even without the addition of the various herbs and spices. In fact, when I first tried this dish I was convinced I couldn't even taste the added ingredients - it tasted just like parsnip! I tried cooking it again, this time adding more of each herb and spice, but the result was the same - all I could taste was parsnip. It was only when I ate mashed parsnip, without any additions, did I realise the effect these extra ingredients were having; they don't change the flavour of the vegetable, but rather they enhance it, emphasising its sweetness. This is a simple meal, but an enjoyable one which I heartily recommend.
I also wish to point out (and I cannot do this enough) that this parsnip mash is, without a doubt, the perfect accompaniment to the remarkably popular dill chicken recipe.