A Very City Paper Thanksgiving: Parsnip Cakes

A Very City Paper Thanksgiving: Parsnip Cakes
Credit: Henry Hong.

So first things first, what exactly is a parsnip? If you mentally pictured an albino carrot, count yourself as part of a very small minority. If you recounted a mildly sweet flavor, a celery-with-notes-of-wet-paint aroma, and a slightly chalky-when-raw and almost-creamy-when-cooked texture, then we should probably be friends. You almost never see these guys anymore in grocery stores, except in the occasional "soup stock pack" where it's packaged with other aromatics like celery or turnips, or, most woefully, in your more upscale boutique markets.

It's a classic case of a once-dirt-cheap vegetable becoming unpopular to the point of obscurity, and thus suddenly desirable, and thus expensive. That seems to be changing—I've more recently seen parsnips in Safeway for about the same price as organic carrots. Anyway, unlike carrots, parsnips almost always require cooking for best effect, and like most root vegetables, are easiest to dispatch via boiling and mashing. It's great as a background player, contributing a more or less anonymous high note to mashed potatoes, say. But given its modern-day rarity, it's cool to be able to feature it solo and in a slightly different form than the other, more standard holiday roots.

Parsnip Cakes
1 pound parsnips
1 egg
1 tablespoon softened butter
1 tablespoon chopped scallions
1 tablespoon chopped cooked bacon
Flour or breadcrumbs

Trim ends of parsnip, cut in half, keeping skinny half intact and cutting fat end in half lengthwise. Boil in salted water until soft, 10-15 minutes. Drain and allow to cool.


The peel should slip off easily after cooling; also remove tough woody core if present. Mash with a fork thoroughly and mix in the butter (do not puree in a food processor—mixture will be too loose to form proper cakes).

Combine parsnips and remaining ingredients, mixing thoroughly. Refrigerate for about an hour for easier handling of the mixture (optional).

Form into small cakes, perhaps the size of a Reese's Peanut Butter Cup. Dredge in flour or breadcrumbs, shake off excess, and set aside. Heat some oil or butter in a pan to medium hot, and fry cakes until brown on both sides.

Serve—the cakes are really good served with sour cream or some other rich condiment like mayonnaise or even hollandaise or béarnaise.