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April 2009 Parsnips

April 2009 Parsnips

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Published by hilnel

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Published by: hilnel on Dec 03, 2009
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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Parsnips and Dandelion Greens
Tradition has it that the first foods to appear in spring are tonics – medicinal plants thatcleanse the body of a winter’s worth of toxins accrued from eating fatty foods and few, if any, fresh fruits and vegetables. Certainly the early greens of spring are packed withnutrition, perhaps none more so than dandelions, which are loaded with vitamins A, K and C and E, as well as calcium, iron and heart-healthy omega acids.Dandelion greens are free for the taking at this time of year. Head out to your garden and odds are you’ll find the characteristic saw-toothed rosettes trying to take over the asparagus patch or the unplanted vegetable beds – they’re actually a sign of fertilesoil. Look for plants that haven’t bloomed yet. These are the most tender, and their unopened flower buds are especially tasty. Simply pull up the plants deep taproots and all(if you leave the root behind, a new dandelion will grow from it). Dandelions are alsoabundant in lawns and fields, but
do not 
harvest dandelions that have been treated withfertilizers, pesticides or herbicides.To prepare the greens, cut away the root and discard it, then drop the leaves into alarge bowl of cold water and swish them around so the grit sinks to the bottom of the bowl. Lift the leaves out (so the grit remains behind in the bowl), set them aside in acolander, and discard the dirty water. Rinse the bowl well, then refill it with cold water and wash the greens again. Repeat a third time if necessary to thoroughly clean thegreens. Dry them in a salad spinner or on a dishtowel and store in a plastic bag in therefrigerator, where they’ll keep for several days.Young, tender dandelion greens are a delicious raw addition to salads or servedlightly sautéed with garlic in olive oil. Older dandelion greens should be tenderized before sautéing by being blanched for a minute or two in a big pot of boiling water, justuntil they turn bright green and soften a bit.Parsnips that have been over-wintered are the perfect foil to the dandelion’sassertive bitterness. Seeded in spring, parsnips are harvested months later only after frostshave turned the starchy roots meltingly sweet. Those parsnips that make it through winter uneaten by voles are one of the first harvests of spring, a flexible vegetable that can besautéed, roasted, boiled and mashed, or even eaten raw. Now, though, in mid-spring,these biennials are sending out leaves in preparation for flowering and seed production inearly summer. This turns the roots tougher and spongy, which means, sadly, that the endof April into early May is the last call for garden-fresh parsnips.Luckily, parsnips are a flexible vegetable, one that has been turning up in justabout everything I cook these days as I rush to harvest the last of my parsnips. They’re just as delicious as the main ingredient in gnocchi served atop sautéed dandelion greens,or as the grace note in a buttery, maple cake flecked with vanilla bean and cardamom. Asfor the few parsnips we don’t manage to eat, they’ll be lovely in a month or two whenthey blossom and the patient bees finally get a turn to enjoy their sweetness.
Parsnip Cake
12 Tbs. (1 ½ sticks) unsalted butter, plus a little more to butter the pan½ vanilla bean or 1 tsp vanilla4 whole green cardamom pods or 1 tsp. ground cardamom (optional)4 eggs at room temperature
1 cup (real!) maple syrup (grade B is best for baking)¾ lb. fresh parsnips1 ½ tsps. baking powder ½ tsp. salt2 ½ cups flour 
For serving
(optional)1 pint of heavy cream sweetened with maple syrup and whipped to soft peaksFruit – try to use whatever is available fresh locally, or what you froze or canned inseason last year. Berries, peaches or stewed, sweetened rhubarb are all good.Butter a 10” round pan (spring-form if you have one) or a deep (at least 3”) 9” pan. Line the bottom with parchment paper if you have some, butter the paper and thenflour the pan. If you don’t have parchment, just butter and flour the pan. Preheat the ovento 350 degrees.Put the butter into a heavy pot or sauté pan. Cut the vanilla bean down the middlethe long way and scrape out the seeds with the edge of paring knife into the butter. Throwthe pod in, too. Crush the cardamom seeds with the side of a chef’s knife and add those tothe butter (if using the liquid vanilla and cardamom, proceed to the next step). Melt the butter over medium-low heat and let it sizzle slowly, stirring occasionally to break up thevanilla seeds, until the butter smells nutty and is golden brown – don’t burn! Removefrom heat and set aside to cool. If the butter is on the verge of being too brown, pour itinto a bowl to cool.Meanwhile, crack the eggs into the bowl of an electric mixer (you can also use ahand-held mixer, or if you’re up to it, a whisk). Beat at medium high speed until the eggs begin to fluff up a bit and get pale. Pour in one-half the syrup and continue beating untilthe eggs rise a bit and get thicker.Meanwhile, peel the parsnips and cut them into chunks. Put them in the bowl of afood processor along with the rest of the syrup and process until well pureed. If you don’thave a food processor, grate them on the fine side of a grater and stir in the syrup.Put the flour, salt and baking powder into a bowl and whisk until well combined.Strain the vanilla bean and cardamom pods out of the butter. Save the pods for another use (you can rinse and dry them and then add them to a bowl of sugar to add anice flavor to the sugar). Gently fold the butter (and vanilla and ground cardamom, if using) into the eggs, then fold the parsnips into the eggs by hand with a whisk – the ideais to keep the eggs as light as possible. Now sprinkle 1/3 of the flour mixture over theeggs and fold this in, again trying not to deflate them. Sprinkle in the remaining flour intwo more batches, carefully folding it in to the batter. Mix only until you can’t see anyflour anymore; try not to overmix.Pour the batter into the pan and bake for about 40-45 mins, until the center is setand a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool for ten minutes or so, thenturn out of the pan and let the cake cool on a wire rack. Serve warm or at roomtemperature with whipped cream sweetened with maple syrup and fruit if desired.
Parsnip Gnocchi with Dandelion Greens

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