For folks who like to grow their own food or eat seasonally, springtime holds the promise of many new beginnings and upcoming harvests. But April and May can be somewhat desolate months when seeds are being put in ground but not many crops are actually ready to eat. Having parsnips overwinter provides a surprisingly luscious, seasonal treat that can be harvested before any other crops are ready to eat.
Spring-dug parsnips are coveted for their unique sweetness and depth of flavour. Instead of being harvested in the fall, these parsnips are left in the ground through the winter months and harvested as soon as the soil fully thaws. While they slumber under a bed of mulch and snow, the cold works its magic, converting their starches to sugar and turning them into a highly sought-after treat.
My friend Ume grows the most beautiful parsnips in her garden and she invited me to take part in her spring harvest last year. It was quite magical to spot the bright, promising roots against the cold dark earth. Ever since, I’ve had parsnips on the brain and have experimented with a whole bunch of parsnip recipes. Parsnip gnocchi has become a favourite. I’ve always loved classic potato gnocchi but when parsnip is added to the dough (I use half parsnip, half potato), the little white pillows take on an enticingly sweet flavour. I like to serve them with a lemony arugula walnut pesto. The tartness of the lemon, the spice of the arugula, and the saltiness of the parmesan all provide a balanced counterpoint to the sweet gnocchi. The whole thing is lip-smacking good.
A few words on gnocchi. It’s one of those things that intimidates people but it’s really not very hard to make. The trick with gnocchi is to avoid the gummy factor. Although I personally have always loved a chewy little gnocchi with some bite to it, once you’ve had a light and tender melt-in-your-mouth-gnocchi, it’s hard to go back.
I read up on how to make the most tender and light gnocchi and I find myself always going back to this article on Serious Eats. It’s incredibly informative and Daniel Gritzer offers up some great tips. Using dry, starchy potatoes such as Russets is key (though there are other equally starchy varieties, for the potato growers and connoisseurs out there). Baking them is recommended to get the maximum moisture out of the potato (though many traditional Italian recipes simply boil them, so don’t think it actually matters THAT much). He also recommends using minimal flour (starting with 1/4 cup per pound of potato and working your way up if the dough needs it) and not overworking the dough because you don’t want to develop the gluten. He recommends using a pastry cutter to “cut” the flour in and then folding the dough on itself instead of kneading it. You’re supposed to use a “potato ricer” for gnocchi but I have a real aversion to specialized kitchen tools that end up sitting at the back of your drawer unused, so I refuse to buy one. But I had read that you can instead grate the baked potato using a box grater and I found it worked fairly well. Use the large holes, not the small ones as I did in the video (it will go quicker). The trick is that the potatoes should ideally still be hot, but if you’re grating them, just cooled enough to handle will do the trick. As for the parsnip, it isn’t nearly as finicky as the potatoes. I mashed it with a fork and it was fine, but if you can, puree it with a blender for smoother gnocchi dough. In large parsnips, the heart can be tough, so remove it if need be.
The instructions to my recipe are detailed, but don’t worry if you want to do things differently, there are a million ways to make a good gnocchi! Enjoy!
Parsnip Gnocchi with Arugula Walnut Pesto
An enticingly sweet flavor is created when parsnip is added to a classic gnocchi dough. Served in a lemony arugula walnut pesto and it's lip-smacking good. Aube Giroux shares more about this dish in the Kitchen Vignettes blog.
- For the gnocchi:
- 1 pound of Russet potatoes (or an equally dry variety), about 3 medium-sized potatoes
- 1 pound parsnip, about 2 large parsnips
- 2 egg yolks
- 2/3 cup all-purpose flour (more, as needed, and for rolling)
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 2 Tbsp butter
- 1 tsp olive oil
- For the pesto:
- 2 cups tightly packed arugula
- 1/2 cup olive oil
- 1/2 cup chopped walnuts
- 1/2 cup freshly-grated parmesan
- Juice of one large lemon (about 3 Tbsp)
- Zest of one lemon (about 1 Tbsp)
- 1 clove chipped garlic
- Salt and pepper, to taste
- Prick the potatoes with a fork and rub about 1 tsp of olive oil all over the whole parsnips. Roast the potatoes and parsnips on a baking sheet in a 400F oven for approximately one hour or until very tender when pierced with a fork.
- Allow to cool sightly and as soon as you can handle them, remove the skins from the hot potatoes and parsnips. Press the potatoes through a potato ricer if you have one, or grate them over the large holes of a box grater. Puree the parsnips using a stand or immersion blender, until smooth. (Or simply mash them with a fork as a did in the video). If the parsnips are large, the hearts may be tough, if this is case, simply remove and discard them and work with the tender flesh only. Place the grated potato and parsnip on a clean board. Whisk the egg yolks and pour over the parsnip and potato mash. Using a flour sifter or fine-mesh sieve, sprinkle on about 1/4 cup of the flour and begin to incorporate the flour very loosely, using a pastry blender or a wooden spatula. Avoid overworking or kneading the dough. Cutting in the flour prevents the gluten in the flour from developing and yields a more tender gnocchi. Keep adding flour and incorporating it until the dough becomes less sticky. You can begin folding the dough gently onto itself to incorporate the last amounts of flour. Add more flour as needed, to obtain a dough that holds together well and is not overly sticky, but is not stiff and dry either. Roll the dough into a log, cover with a cloth, and let it rest for 15 minutes while you prepare the pesto.
- Place all the pesto ingredients except the oil in a food processor and pulse until finely chopped. Add the olive oil and pulse just until incorporated, or until your pesto reaches the consistency you prefer. (Some people like a smooth pesto but I like to see flecks of green and I try to avoid a puree). Taste and add salt, pepper, and more lemon juice as needed.
- Take the gnocchi log and slice it into about 6 even pieces. Roll each piece into a long snake about 1/2 inch in diameter. Cut the gnocchi pieces so they are about 1-inch long. Dust with flour and avoid piling them together so they don’t clump.
- Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Delicately drop the gnocchi into the boiling water, in about 3 or 4 separate batches. They will drop to the bottom and after about a minute, they will float to the surface. Let them float for about 30 seconds and then remove with a strainer or slotted spoon and transfer into a heated pan with the 2 Tbsp of butter. Allow the gnocchi to turn golden brown and at the last minute, add a generous dollop of pesto, making sure not to leave the pesto in the hot pan for more than a few seconds otherwise it will begin to turn a brownish green. Serve hot, with a bit of extra grated parmesan.
Yield: Serves 3 to 4
Aube Giroux is a food writer and filmmaker who shares her love of cooking on her farm-to-table blog, Kitchen Vignettes.
Aube is a passionate organic gardener and home cook who likes to share the stories of how food gets to our dinner plates. Her work has been shown on television and at international film festivals. Her web series has been nominated for multiple James Beard Awards for Best Video Webcast (On Location). In 2012, she was the recipient of Saveur Magazine’s Best Food Blog award in the video category.