Alibi V.24 No.11 • March 12-18, 2015 

Flash in the Pan

Parsnip Party

Mike Licht via flickr CC by 2.0.

Nothing against corn beef and cabbage, but the parsnip is quietly, quintessentially Irish to me, and not just because it's so pale. The taproot has a subtly sweet character and stubborn perseverance that says Ireland, especially this time of year when the Irish parsnip harvest is in full swing.

Ireland's climate is mild enough that the seeds can be planted in summer, with the resulting roots being left in the ground and harvested all winter and deep into the spring. The Irish countryside is also home to wild parsnips, which were traditionally used in conjunction with hops to make beer, while Ireland's English neighbors to the south prefer parsnip wine.

I've had the pleasure of living in two places with Irish communities that celebrate St. Patrick's Day with a vigor and hard-headedness that could be compared with the parsnip.

In my hometown of Boston, a holiday with supposed historical relevance called Evacuation Day was manufactured in order to get around a lack of federal support for an official St. Patrick’s Day holiday from school and work. But nobody ever gathered around the water cooler to discuss their upcoming "Evacuation Day" plans. We all knew what the holiday was really called. Similarly, the parsnip is determined to do what it wants, when it wants. The seeds are notoriously difficult to germinate and will grow if and when they feel like it, despite any attempts to dictate their schedule.

In Montana, the city of Butte houses cavernous bars that appear empty if less than a hundred people are in them. But on St. Paddy's Day, they are too full to squeeze into. Likewise, the parsnip is rarely used, but hard to ignore when it is.

In honor of the long, pale tuber that's currently in season and the approaching St. Patrick's Day holiday, here is a parsnip-based recipe to help you celebrate.

Beef and parsnip stout stew

You can't get more Irish than a stout beer like Guinness. Other Irish stouts, like Murphy's, work as well. This is a slow cooker recipe, and the longer it cooks the better. It should be made the day before serving. The sweet stout is absorbed by the other contents and the result is a dark, rich broth that is faintly parsnippy. The recipe is modified from allrecipes.com.

Ingredients

2 lbs beef, or more if the cuts have bones attached, which is preferable. I last made it with a mix of beef stew meat chunks and beef neck. Ribs would work, as would shank.

3 medium carrots cut into sub-inch cubes

3 medium parsnips cut into sub-inch cubes

1 turnip, peeled and cut into sub-inch cubes

1 large onion, chopped

3 stalks celery, chopped

1 pint Irish stout

2 tablespoons tomato paste or pizza sauce, or ½ cup canned tomatoes

2 tablespoons butter

1 tablespoon dried thyme

2 tablespoons garlic powder

3 cups beef broth (unless you're using beef bones)

Brown the meat under the broiler and add it to a Crockpot or slow cooker that's half-full of water. You can also cook it in the oven using a baking pot with a lid. Add a tablespoon of butter to the meat browning pan and then the celery and onion. Brown them on the stove or in the broiler and add to the stew. Deglaze the pan with beer and add it to the stew. Add the parsnip, carrot, turnip, thyme, garlic powder, tomato, broth (if using) and remaining butter. Salt to taste as it cooks. Cook 4-8 hours on low until beef is completely tender.