Monday, April 23, 2007
Parsnip & Oregano Salad
There comes a time in every cook’s life when spring gets frustrating. Take today: it’s 81 F in New York, and my walk to the market took on a familiar summer slouch before I reached the first street corner. When it’s warm out, I always seem to slow down, look around, and breathe easier than when I have to hunch against the icy winter wind.
A cacophony of color met me as I turned into the greenmarket. Flowers were spread out as far as the eye could see: tulips, daffodils, and nasturtiums. In fact, food seemed a bit of an afterthought. The problem with spring is that food is growing in the fields, and this takes a while.
As Paulette Satur of Satur Farms once told me, “Chefs are often anxious to push and advance the season. I get calls for rutabaga in October, but I say ‘You have to wait! You’ll be so bored by March!’” This goes for home cooks too. After the long, unremitting winter, I want tomatoes, berries, and peaches at the first hint of heat – not the same old potatoes, apples, and swiss chard I’ve been looking at for months.
There is a way of preparing carrots in Italy that deals decisively with just this problem. They are blanched and sliced into sticks before being bathed in a sunny oregano vinaigrette. It’s a clever tradition for turning heavy, winter roots into lighter spring fare.
I’ve adapted the classic recipe for some freshly grown parsnips from Race Farm in Blairstown, New Jersey. Parsnips are still being harvested around New York, and this salad makes a wonderful bridge between winter and spring. It’s also a great accompaniment to grilled fish.
4-5 medium parsnips, peeled and cut into 2” lengths
1 whole garlic clove, peeled and halved
1 tbsp red wine vinegar
juice of ½ lemon
pinch crushed red pepper flakes
3-5 tsbp extra virgin olive oil
2 stalks fresh oregano leaves, minced
Fill a medium saucepan with cold water. Add the parsnip sections and bring to the boil over high heat. Drain while still firm – the dressing will continue to soften them. Rinse with cold water to stop the cooking process, and cut into sticks.
Rub the sides and base of a medium bowl with the garlic halves and then discard them. In the bowl, whisk together the vinegar and lemon juice with salt and red pepper flakes to taste. Add the olive oil and the oregano and whisk again. Now add the parsnips and toss gently to combine. Cover and refrigerate for at least 3 hours, stirring at least once. Bring up to room temperature and adjust seasoning with lemon juice and salt before serving.