Come December, parsnips are everywhere. It seems you can barely set foot into a supermarket without tripping over bags of the creamy white root vegetable. Parsnip gnocchi are a delicious alternative to roasted parsnip and are a creative and delicious vegetarian main course.
I first came across parsnips aged 14 in art class. We were asked to do some still life paintings of vegetables and I picked a parsnip, thinking it looked like a pimped up carrot. It wasn’t until a few years later until I actually ate my first one. For some strange reason they aren’t very common in Germany and certainly nothing that we ever ate at home. I loved the earthy sweetness with strong herbal notes that so beautifully caramelise when glazed with honey or maple syrup. Related to parsley (hence, the German name Petersilienwurzel which translates into parsley root) they are extremely common in central Europe but seems fell a little out of favour in 90’s Germany. Roasting is certainly the most common way to eat parsnips and I have lost count of the number of roasted parsnip recipes I have collected over the years. However, there are many more exciting things to do with them and one of the uses is Gnocchi, an idea I first came across in a German pasta cookbook (of all places!)
Boiled, mashed and then shaped with a bit of flour and egg – voila you are in business. Certainly delicious just lightly poached and then fried in some butter. But I love the sharp, salty contrast of the blue cheese against the sweet gnocchi. Dissolving the blue cheese into some cream on the stove mellows it just enough to not overwhelm the delicate parsnip flavour. Baked in the oven, the sauce thickens around the gnocchi and a crunchy parmesan topping provides a much needed contrast for the soft gnocchi. When your kitchen is filled with the smell of molten cheese and a bubbling, golden dish is set in front of you, how can you resist? This is winter comfort food at its best, certainly what I would want after a cold day outside.
Yet often one person’s pleasure is another person’s pain. As much as I love this dish, everything about it is my husbands worst nightmare. Panic flickers in his eyes at the word ‘parsnip’, retching sounds emitted at the words ‘blue cheese’ and sheer terror painted across this face when I said gnocchi. I see little in a gnocchi that can cause offence, after all they are basically a fancy potato dumpling with sauce. Well, to each his own. It just means my two lunch portions became one for me and one for, well, myself.
Secrets to success:
- Don’t peel parsnips and then leave them lying around or they will turn grey. Peel and boil straight away
- Make sure to steam dry the parsnips well after boiling otherwise you’re gnocchi will become watery
- You may need a little more or a little less flour. Add just enough so the dough comes together well.
- As always when making any sort of pasta, use 00 flour. It will create a much lighter texture than plain flour.
- Serve with a sharply dressed, simple green salad