Spring-Dug Parsnip Purée with Seared Sea Scallops

Right after maple syrup, the second New England crop of the year is spring-dug parsnips, and now’s the time to find them.

Parsnips are a bit finicky to germinate and grow, but they are well-worth the effort because they keep well in the north for use all winter. Many farmers “store” a certain portion of their crop in the ground to winter over for a spring harvest. Why? Spring-dug parsnips are sweeter and milder than those picked in the autumn; during their winter sleep, the starchiness is replaced with sugars, they become a bit softer, and loose some of their intense flavor. But you have to be quick, or the parsnip plants will bolt in order to set their seed stalk, and the root will become tough and woody. It’s seasonal eating at its best and most fleeting.

The winter’s nap tames the flavor

      I have to say, I’m not usually thrilled by parsnips in the fall or winter, their flavor is a bit too heavy for me, as it was for my mom, so she didn’t cook them often. However, they are one of my husband’s favorites so I do make them, and hide them from myself in stews and soups.

      But the spring parsnips are much nicer! Here, I’ve made a purée and mixed them equal parts with potatoes to soften the flavor even more. You can use just parsnips here, double the amount, or any ratio you like. It would even be delicious with three parts potatoes and one of parsnips.

Let’s warm them up!

      They also deserved some warm spices after their cold winter’s sleep, but not a lot, so rather than add spices to the purée, infusing the milk gives more subtle notes to the dish. You can use any “milk” you like, but something creamy like coconut milk works well. Yes, you can also use light cream here, but I would not use a heavier cream. Canned evaporated skim milk would be a good substitution for the coconut milk or cream if you want to avoid even more saturated fat. You can also use just the cooking liquid from the vegetables if you don’t want to add anything white! It will still be delicious. Just pop the aromatics in with the vegetables as they cook and fish them out afterwards. Make the purée as thick or thin as you like, it’s your dish.

Don’t forget the chives

      I’ve garnished with beautiful spring chives from the garden, some flavorful paprika oil, and some lovely little edible pansies. It’s finally spring after all!

Spring-Dug Parsnip Purée

  • 1 lb. spring-dug parsnips, peeled and diced
  • 1 lb. Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and diced
  • 1 cup canned coconut milk, light, or evaporated skim milk, or parsnip cooking liquid
  • 2 or 3 star anise
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 small cinnamon stick
  • 1 large garlic clove, crushed
  • ¼ stick vegan or dairy butter
  • Fresh spring chives
  • Smoked paprika oil 
  • 2 or 3 cups of pea shoots or arugula

      Peel the parsnips and potatoes, keeping them separate. In a saucepan, cover the parsnips with cold water, add about a teaspoon of salt, and bring to a boil. Once they have boiled hard for five minutes, add the potatoes, reduce the heat to a simmer, and cook until both vegetables are very soft.

      While they are cooking, combine the milk with the spices and garlic and bring to a simmer, then reduce the heat to low and let the flavors infuse. Make the scallops, below.

      When ready, drain the vegetables, reserving some of the cooking liquid. Put the vegetables through a food mill, or mash very fine. Because there are potatoes here, don’t use a food processor or blender or you’ll get a gummy mixture.

      Pick out the spices and garlic with a slotted spoon from the milk, and add a little at a time to the purée. If you want the purée even smoother, add a bit of the reserved cooking liquid. You can also make this solely with the cooking liquid, it’s very flavorful. Salt and pepper to taste, and add the butter, mixing well.

      To serve, place the pea shoots on a large platter, then pour the purée in the center, overlapping the shoots so some will wilt a bit from the heat. Top with the scallops, sprinkle with some spring chives, and drizzle with the paprika oil.

Searing Sea Scallops

If you want to get a lovely sear on a scallop, always check with the fish expert that the scallops are ‘dry’ that is not packed in a liquid preservative. Most sea scallops in grocery store and packed in this solution, which waterlogs them making it very difficult to get any color in the cooking process. It also contains a preservative you don’t need, and they are apt to be less fresh. All good reasons to buy the real deal. It is also important to pat the scallops very dry before searing.

  • 1 lb. dry sea scallops
  • Olive oil
  • Flour for dusting

      Make these while the parsnips and potatoes are cooking, they take just a few minutes.

      Pat the scallops dry, remove the muscle, and season with salt and pepper on both sides. Dust with flour.

      Heat a heavy skillet, and add olive oil to cover the bottom. Place the scallops in the heated skillet and let sear for two to three minutes, peeking after two minutes to check on the progress. Turn, and cook another two minutes or so. Remove from the pan and keep warm.

Smoked Paprika Oil

      Combine 1 tsp. hot or sweet smoked paprika with 4 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil and whisk well. Drizzle over anything that needs a little kick!

We are trained to look for our seasonal roadside vendors of wild foraged foods. We often find the same person selling the same delicacies year after year. Always a bargain, and always fresh.
It’s spring here in Vermont! That means parsnips, greening grass, and gulls swarming the fields. I know, Vermont is landlocked, but our Lake Champlain is home to many gulls, often migrating by the thousands. Right now, they have been searching our fields for spring nibbles! I opened my window, closed my eyes, and dreamed of the shore.

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67 Comments Add yours

  1. As a kid in the UK, our family loved parsnips, and would make a point to find the ones that had had that extra time in the ground and a kiss of frost or snow. As an adut in Australia it is much harder to find good ‘snips, but worth it when I can.

    1. It’s a great gardening technique! They store better after there’s been a frost.

  2. Marilyndishes says:

    I live parsnips! And spring ones would be so nice!

    1. The ones dug in spring have that sweet little edge over the fall harvest.

  3. Christy B says:

    I don’t think to add parsnips to meals – Thanks for the reminder to do so!

    1. They usually are the unforgotten cousin sitting on the sideline. But they keep forever, so there is always a chance they will get called into duty!

  4. Eha says:

    Oh, can you hear me clapping across the Pond? I cannot wait to try this beauty! Yes, Vince above is correct – most of the time our parsnips do not look as young and attractive, but shall be looking . . . and star anise, clove and cinnamon, though greatly beloved have not ben used in dishes like these . . . off to friends offering the recipe . . . 😉 !

    1. I’m so glad this tickled your culinary bones! I like to dress up the humble roots whenever I can, just not too much or they lose themselves!

  5. Mary says:

    Parsnips are a very versatile vegetable. I like them in a mash with Potatoes, Carrots, Swede and any other root vegetable. They are also lovely roasted round meat or chicken.
    Goodness, I think we like Parsnips!! :)))

    1. I think you do Mary! They are good roasted, and mashed with all those other roots is certainly a thing of beauty in the winter!

  6. CarolCooks2 says:

    We absolutely love parsnips unfortunately I cannot get them often here as they are imported and silly prices just for one..I kid you not I have tried to germinate some seeds with no success..Your recipe sounds delicious , Dorothy 🙂 x

    1. Thank you Carol! I’ll think of you next time I serve these!

      1. CarolCooks2 says:

        I’d rather be eating parsnips but thank you, Dorothy 🙂 x

  7. Isn’t fresh produce glorious after a long winter!

    1. Like a breath of fresh spring air Elaine!

  8. gabychops says:

    I like parsnip, and so thank you, Dorothy!


    1. Then I think you would love this preparation!

  9. Gail says:

    I’m a scallops fan. This sets the stage for them perfectly, Dorothy. 😋🍃

    1. They did play together nicely! I set this out for a buffet, and people just scooped a little of the puree with a scallop. Worked beautifully!

      1. Gail says:

        You are so talented, Dorothy! 🌟✨💫

      2. Thank you Gail, I’ve learned a lot of little tricks along the way!

      3. Gail says:

        I agree. That’s when our age is an advantage. 😜

  10. Jenna says:

    I’ve never had parsnips! What a lovely way to serve them and the scallops look perfect!

    1. Thank you Jenna! They taste sort of like a carrot, but more carroty! Good luck finding them.

  11. That’s an exotic dish.

  12. Nancy says:

    I love parsnips, but they are hard to find. But I’ll be in search of them very soon.

    1. Happy Hunting Nancy!

  13. NativeNM says:

    Seared scallops are always a treat. Looks delicious!

    1. Thank you Jan. It’s my favorite way to enjoy scallops, and no one in the family disagrees!

  14. What a fabulous combination. Looks delicious.

    1. Thank you Jovina! They were pretty delicious together.

  15. Ally Bean says:

    This looks delicious. I do enjoy scallops, so versatile, go with just about anything.

    1. Mashed potatoes, pasta, rice, beans…

  16. Ronit says:

    Beautiful spring plate!
    Adding all these spices to the parsnips is such a great idea. 🙂

  17. Oh my, those scallops looked perfectly seared! My first thought when I saw the pic was “Mmm, scallops resting on a bed of mash potatoes” which would have been quite alright by me. I feel the same about parsnips as you. I’d love to try these scallops over a lentil ragu, what do you think?
    Fiddle-dee-dee! I never had any luck with fiddleheads!

    1. Yum! I think they would be marvelous over a lentil ragu, the earth meets the sea!
      Ah, our fiddleheads will be out in moments. I’ll teach everyone how to absolutely love them! You’re invited N.!

  18. terrie gura says:

    I’ve learned something new today, about the mellowing of flavor on the wintered parsnips. By the way, you have mastered the art of PERFECT searing on those scallops. The “dry” packing does make a huge difference.

    1. Thanks Terrie! I love seared scallops, and for a time I couldn’t get them to look like this, and they tasted like nothing. I was buying the wrong scallops, plain and simple. That’s why I love to chat up the fishmonger! Always learn something new!

  19. I LOVE parsnips!! No-one here in the USA does but I just love them – a parsnip puree sounds like heaven to me!

    1. They are a spring staple around here! And the purée makes them a little special.

  20. Beautiful scenery, and the minute you typed scallops you had my attention. 🙂

    1. I know! When I see the on a menu, I’m there!

  21. Love scallops and your presentation is beautiful!

  22. Cees says:

    This sound delicious.

    1. Thank you so much! We enjoyed this a lot!

  23. I adore parsnips I don’t know why I never had them as a child. Actually I adore everything about this recipe and I can’t wait to make it.. Parsons are a little hard to find Here. I know so many vegetables are sweeter after frost but I did not know about spring
    dug parsnips!!

    1. It’s kind of a spring ritual here; it will be ages before we can eat anything we plant in ground but radishes, so this satisfies our urge to dig something out if the earth and eat it!

  24. Lol parsnips not Parsons Parsons are a dimr a dozen down here in the South no offense intended

  25. nancyc says:

    This dish sounds perfect for spring! And it looks spring-like too, arranged on all those greens! 🙂

    1. Thank you! It definitely has the flavor of early spring!

  26. I love them so do I plant in May and dig up in spring or plant later here in NH? I adore sea scallops so this will be a new favorite!

    1. Plant them as soon as the soil is workable, they need a long growing season. If you harvest some in the fall, wait until there have been a few frosts.

      1. OK thanks 🙂

  27. You’ve made a wonderful dish with such a simple root 😉😋

    1. Thank you! Just going with the (slow) spring flow!

  28. Eva Saxell says:

    I really like your recipes. I always come to visit here to see what’s new. Great job! 🙂

    1. Thank you so much Eva! Soon there will be asparagus!

  29. Hannah says:

    This looks so beautiful and tasty!

    1. Thank you Hannah! We really loved it.

  30. kayceefaith says:

    do you life in china

  31. I am in Vermont, the chilly north country!

  32. Anonymous says:

    Looks amazing the perfect summer dish to enjoy

    1. Thank you! It was really delicious!

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