It is a happy day the first time we see local spring-dug parsnips for sale!
Sometimes you find them at the co-ops, a neighbor might bring you a few, but more often you’ll see a pick-up truck at a parking area on the side of the road. Usually, the same person year after year, and he will have the fiddleheads in a couple of weeks as well.
Spring parsnips were planted the previous year and allowed to winter over where they become incredibly sweet and flavorful. More intense than carrots in flavor, these spring beauties are treasured by many a cook.
The timing was perfect this year for the appearance of parsnips on the spring-Easter-holiday table. Combined with leeks (also spring dug if you are lucky), and a little carrot for color, this is a delicious side dish that can even be made a day ahead and reheated.
I’ve a couple little tricks here. First, the addition of the roasted garlic adds a lovely dimension to the dish. Secondly, since I try to extract as much flavor as possible from everything, while the garlic was roasting, I simmered all the veggies trimmings in the milk. In this case, I used unsweetened soy milk, but you can you dairy if you like. It is amazing the amount of flavor you will extract in a short time, and that translates to a memorable finished product.
Parsnip and Leeks Au Gratin
- 1 large head garlic
- 1 ½ lbs. parsnips
- 1 large carrot
- 2 leeks
- 3 cups soy or 2 % milk
- 2 bay leaves
- 2 sprigs rosemary
- 4 tbsp. flour
- 4 tbsp. butter or vegan butter
- 1/3 cup whole wheat or panko bread crumbs
Cut the top off the garlic head and drizzle with olive oil. Place on a square of parchment, wrap in foil, and bake at 425 for about 30 minutes, or until nice and soft. When cool enough to handle, squeeze the little bulbs out of the head and mash.
Scrub the parsnips and carrots well, then peel them, placing all the trimmings in a saucepan. Pour in the milk and put on the stove to simmer along with the bay leaves, 1 sprig of the rosemary, and some salt and pepper. You’ll want this to simmer about 20 to 30 minutes for the most flavor; you’ll be surprised at how flavorful the milk product will become.
Using a sharp knife or a mandolin, slice the vegetables into uniform slices, about 1/4 inch thick. Scrub the leeks well, shave off the darker leaves, and cut into similar thickness as the other vegetables.
Steam the carrots and parsnips until they are just crisp/tender (a fork will go through the vegetables but not fall off) then place them on a baking sheet to cool so you can handle them. Steam the leeks in the same manner. You can also just mix everything all together if you want to save time, but you’ll probably still need to do two batches. If you do them separately you can make layers in the dish, which might or might not be important to you. Once they are all on the sheet cooling, sprinkle liberally with pepper and salt to taste.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and butter a casserole dish. The one I used was oval and about 11” by 8”.
In a saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter and add the flour. Whisk for about two minutes until the flour is cooked. Strain the infused milk, then slowly whisk it into the butter/flour roux. Once nice and creamy, add the reserved roasted garlic pulp and whisk it in well.
Place half the vegetables in the casserole and add about half the sauce. Sprinkle the leeks in an even layer, then add the rest of the vegetables. Pour the rest of the sauce over all.
Cover with an oval of parchment, then seal it all up with foil, or a cover if you have a casserole dish with a tight-fitting top.
Bake for 40 minutes, then turn on the broiler. Uncover the dish and sprinkle the breadcrumbs over all. Either dot with butter or drizzle with olive oil, and place under the broiler until brown and bubbly. And yes, you can sprinkle this with cheese too if you like…
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