You may know Carolyn Cope as Umami Girl. She stops by on Tuesdays with ideas on preparing fruits and vegetables. —The Mgmt.
Even when you run around town calling yourself a "crisper whisperer," you do occasionally end up with a fridge full of dreary looking, unattended-to vegetables. More than two weeks ago I bought a large bag of parsnips and added half of them to a pot of braised short ribs. (I thought about sharing that recipe with you, but we ate it all before I took any photos. Alas.) Recently I've been running across a lot of great-looking recipes for parsnip soups of various types. I kept planning to test a few of those, but there always seemed to be something else to cook first. Poor parsnips.
The further we got from the purchase-on date, and the slightly less delightful the parsnips began to look, the more I realized that the phrase "necessity is the mother of invention" was clearly coined in the presence of parsnips. And it may well have been, since parsnips have been in the Western culinary vernacular for thousands upon thousands of years.
According to The Produce Bible, parsnips were prevalent in the Roman Empire, were used as sucking toys to soothe babies during the Middle Ages, and were the most commonly used winter vegetable throughout much of Europe until the potato was introduced in the 18th century. Colonists in the new world used parsnips for everything from wine to pudding to chips. It's a shame we relegate them to purées and braises most of the time these days. If you don't agree with me about that yet, you should really have a bite of this earthy, perfectly spiced parsnip cake.
Parsnip Spice Cake
- 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 cup sugar
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1 tablespoon ground ginger
- 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
- 3/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 3/4 teaspoon ground allspice
- 3/4 teaspoon ground cloves
- 3/4 teaspoon salt
- 3 large eggs
- 1/2 cup canola oil
- 1/2 cup whole milk
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 2 tightly packed cups peeled, shredded parsnips
- 1/2 cup walnuts, chopped
- 4 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
- 2 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
- 1/2 teaspoon peeled, grated fresh ginger
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1/8 teaspoon salt
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter and flour a 9-by-13-by-2-inch pan. In a large bowl, combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, ground ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, cloves, and salt. Whisk to combine.
In a medium bowl, combine the eggs, oil, milk, and vanilla. Whisk to combine. Pour the wet ingredients over the dry ingredients and stir until just mixed well. Stir in parsnips and walnuts.
Pour batter into prepared pan and bake for about 25 minutes, until a tester comes out clean from the center of the cake. Cool completely on a rack.
When cool, frost with Ginger Cream Cheese Frosting, below, if desired.
Ginger Cream Cheese Frosting
In a large bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, combine the cream cheese, butter, ginger, vanilla, and salt and beat until very smooth. Add the confectioners' sugar a little at a time, beating after each addition, until all the sugar is incorporated and the frosting is smooth. Spread over Parsnip Spice Cake and serve.