The first time I ever bought a parsnip (which was only last year) was at a local farm. We had taken the kids to enjoy the pumpkin patch and while they were occupied picking out a pumpkin or snuggling a chicken or some other agrarian activity, I strolled over to the market where the farm sells its crops. At some point in my browsing, a pale, waxy-colored cyclone of a vegetable caught my eye. I knew I should be able to identify it…but what the heck was it? Was it a turnip? Some funky tuber? An oversized albino carrot? No, my friends, it was in fact……
a parsnip! (Isn’t parsnip one of those words that when you say it over and over it sounds totally ridiculous? Parsnip. Parsnip. Parsnip. Try it.) I decided then and there to buy a bag of parsnips, if only for the fact that I had never tried them before and was feeling up for a culinary adventure. When I got to the counter to pay, the farmer/cashier looked at my purchase and said, “You’re not from around here, are you?” First I took offense, like is my city slicker-ness that obvious? I mean, geez, I only live like ten miles from this farm. I tried not to appear chagrined as I answered.
Me: “Um, yes, actually, I live not far from here.”
Farmer/cashier: “But did you grow up here?”
Me: “….Yeeeesss.I grew up in Chandler.”
F/C: (suspiciously) “You’re not from the East Coast?”
F/C: (grunts) “Huh. I never had someone from Arizona buy parsnips.”
A-HA! I was relieved to realize it was not my freaky face or some strange accent I’m unaware of that made appear alien. It was the fact that I was purchasing parsnips. (Though it did make me wonder why this farmer grows parsnips if no one around here buys them.) At any rate, his surprise made me even more determined to take these exotic vegetables home and give them a try. Which I did, and discovered them to be like a sweeter version of carrots–quite tasty when roasted with olive oil.
As it turns out, parsnips have a long and privileged history. The Roman Emperor Tiberius accepted part of the annual tribute paid from Germany to Rome in parsnips, and they were considered a luxury food for aristocratic Romans. In the Middle Ages parsnips were a staple starch, significantly more popular than potatoes. So if you’re inclined to try this recipe for fennel-crusted pork with roasted carrots, onions, and parsnips, you’ll be continuing the rich and storied saga of this root vegetable. More than that, you’ll enjoy a succulent pork tenderloin surrounded by an earthy crust of fennel seeds as well as oven-crisped carrots and red onions. For a simple, less-is-more weeknight dinner, our family loved it. So guess what, farmer-cashier-man? I’m gonna keep on buying your parsnips, even if I AM from around here. How do you like THEM parsnips??
Fennel-Crusted Pork Roast with Autumn Vegetables
(Adapted from Real Simple)
3/4 lb. carrots, peeled and cut into 3-inch sticks
3/4 lb. parsnips, peeled and cut into 3-inch sticks
1 medium red onion, cut into 1/2-inch wedges
2 Tbsp. plus 2 tsp. olive oil
kosher salt and black pepper
1.25 lb. pork tenderloin
2 Tbsp. fennel seeds, crushed
1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
2. On a rimmed baking sheet, toss carrots, parsnips, and red onion with 2 Tbsp. olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast for 15-18 minutes.
3. Meanwhile, season the pork with salt and pepper, then coat with crushed fennel seeds. (You can do this by spreading the seeds on a plate or piece of wax paper and rolling the tenderloin over them.) Heat the remaining 2 tsp. olive oil over medium-high heat in a skillet large enough to accommodate the length of the tenderloin. Cook the pork, turning occasionally, until all sides are browned, about 8-10 minutes.
4. Remove vegetables from the oven and stir. Make room in the center of the baking sheet and place the pork on it, surrounded by the vegetables.
5. Return the whole thing to the oven and continue to roast another 16-20 minutes. Let the pork rest at least 5 minutes before slicing.