Spring Parsnip and Leeks Au Gratin

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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  1. This looks delicious. Happy spring harvest time!

    1. Thank you Jennifer! It’s my favorite time of year, everything is possible!

  2. Carol Taylor says:

    This sounds delicious, Dorothy I so wish I could get parsnips here 🙂 x

    1. Parsnips are my husband’s favorite, so he was delighted with this, and portioned out the leftovers to himself for a couple of days! You can substitute all carrots if you can’t get parsnips.

  3. They look great!

    1. Thank you Charlie! They were creamy and delicious!

  4. Beautiful seasonal dish. Parsnips are so great when baked. 🙂

    1. They get even sweeter, don’t they!

      1. Exactly! 🙂

  5. What a meal! Reblogging!

    1. Thank you! It’s a delicious dish!

    1. Thank you! it’s delicious indeed!

  6. vegtutor says:

    This looks delicious, but where are the leeks?

    1. The leeks are layered in the middle of the casserole. First, half of the parsnips/carrots, then the leeks, then the rest of the parsnips/carrots. You can also just mix them all together.

      1. vegtutor says:

        Thank you 🙂

  7. capost2k says:

    Oooh, I would love this, but my bride threatened to make me sleep in the garage if I ate the leeks! She is averse to any onion or garlic and allergic to any and all hollow peppers. But she is a great cook, so no complaints. 😉
    BTW, I did your New England Boiled Dinner, but with some personal variations, but it was delicious!! But I also overdid it and made enough to last for SIX meals!! Will cut down a little when I make it with lamb. Will be posting soon, and will reference your site for the source. THANX!

    1. Well, in the interest of marital harmony, I guess you’ll have to pass on this dish, or leave the onions out (that would be alright too). I’m so glad you liked the boiled dinner. The beauty of it is that you can always use what you like best and what is in season, and it always turns out great. I look forward to your post! Thanks!

  8. BERNADETTE says:

    Dorothy this looks absolutely delicious. I never heard of spring parsnips. I will have to look for them. This would make a great accompaniment to an Easter ham.

    1. Thank you Bernadette! They are perfect for the Easter table! Creamy, flavorful, and full of nutrition!

  9. This sounds so good, and your tip on simmering the peelings in milk is fascinating, wow…such a beautiful spring dish!

    1. Thank you Jenna! I’m always finding different ways to use those “scraps” that would normally end up on the compost heap! Lots of flavor there.

  10. picpholio says:

    I love Leeks 😉

    1. I do too, they have such a beautiful sweet flavor.

  11. nancyc says:

    Looks very tasty! 🙂

    1. Thank you! We enjoyed it a lot.

  12. sunisanthosh says:

    Love this beautiful spring dish! 😐

    1. Thank you! Such a lovely flavor of spring!

  13. Never had parsnips but looks delish.

    1. Thank you! A lot of people have not tried parsnips, but they are really delicious.

  14. Spring is wonderful and delicious 😋 😉 A great dish!

    1. Thank you my friend! Happy spring to you and yours!

  15. The first time I had parsnips, a neighbor did bring us a few from her garden, and it was love at first bite. They are one of the rewards of getting through a long New England winter. 😊 Your gratin of parsnips sounds great.

    1. It really is like a reward for the hard winter, that sweet from the earth as soon as the ground thaws!

  16. Kymber says:

    Looks yummy!

    1. Thank you so much! I’ve made them again, and they were just as yummy!

  17. Made this recipe yesterday and it was so delicious!! I’m definitely making it again in the future, either with parsnips (which was lovely) or with potatoes and some cheese thrown in. I love the way you utilize even the carrot and parsnip shavings, which would normally just be tossed, to infuse the milk with flavor.

    1. I’m so glad you enjoyed the recipe Lauren! The parsnip peeling infusion is a great trick isn’t it? It’s amazing how much flavor we toss into the trash or compost bucket.

  18. I love the idea of simmering veggie peelings in milk. Thanks for that tip! I usually
    end up freezing my peelings and then making veggie broth with them. My hens aren’t all that crazy for veggie peelings so as a last resort, they go to the compost pile. I am also happy to know I am not crazy regarding plucking parsnips in the spring! I wish we had some locally grown around here. Thanks.

    1. I love the peelings to infuse milk, it adds so much flavor and makes me feel frugal indeed! I’m always on the lookout for a use for my scraps.

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