Hark! ‘Tis the season for parsnips!
When the season arrives few foods get as much fanfare as spring-dug parsnips. Sure asparagus is much beloved when their quick season arrives. And who doesn’t covet strawberries—the true harbinger that summer is here.
Still, parsnips for some are an acquired taste—meaning, they’re not everyone’s cup of tea. Tasting like a cross between a rutabaga, carrot, sweet potato and turnip (aka root vegetables) what happens in the spring is that farmers have left the crops buried in the ground to winter over. This sweetens the root enormously as the starch turns into sugar.
Simply boiled and mashed with plenty of butter and salt and pepper, they’re delicious. Or they work well roasted, pureed in soups; and one dish that I’ve made often is a parsnip and mushroom soufflé, with a puree of parsnips folded into a basic soufflé base.
But for something really unusual you must try parsnip and black pepper biscuits. I found the recipe in an interesting cookbook called Smoke and Pickles by Edward Lee. The author is a Korean-American who grew up in Brooklyn, NY, and got his chef training in classical French kitchens in New York City until he migrated to Louisville Kentucky over a decade ago where his highly regarded restaurant 610Magnolia now stands.
The book is filled with many highly intriguing recipes that reflect Lee’s Korean heritage and his fondness for pickling, which he’s given new twists to considering the South’s passion for pickling too.
These biscuits are somewhat daunting to make, however. You have to get the consistency just right and need a light hand in forming the dough. Lee’s instructions are a bit vague (chef’s recipes are notoriously sketchy), but I’ve straightened out some of the tricky maneuvers in my testing of the recipe.
The dough is extremely sticky so have a kitchen towel on hand because you’re going to need it. But the effort is really worth it. These are extraordinary biscuits.
Parsnip and black pepper biscuits
Adapted from Smoke and Pickles by Edward Lee
Servings 10 to 12 biscuits
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
12 ounces parsnips, peeled and finely chopped
1/3 cup water
More water, as needed
1/2 cup farm-fresh buttermilk
2 tablespoons honey
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
8 tablespoons chilled unsalted butter, cut into small pieces and put in freezer for 5 minutes
1/4 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
Puree. Heat the butter in a large skillet over medium heat until melted and frothy. Add the prepared parsnips and cook for about 8 minutes, stirring often until nicely browned and tender. Deglaze the pan with water and use a wooden spoon to scrape up the browned bits on the bottom of the pan. Add the butter, honey and salt to the pan and simmer very gently for about 5 minutes, stirring and watching that the liquid does not caramelize or cook down too far. If it does you’ll most likely need to add extra water when you start to puree the mixture.
Transfer the mixture to a blender and blend on high speed for 2 minutes, adding more water ( about 1/2 cup extra) to incorporate into the mixture to achieve a smooth puree. Pour into a bowl, let cool and chill in the refrigerator for 20 minutes. This process can be achieved in a food processor (which is easier) but won’t deliver as fine a puree.
Biscuits. Combine the flour, baking powder and salt in the work bowl of a food processor and pulse a few times to combine. Chill the butter pieces in the freezer for 5 minutes. Add to the workbowl with the flour and pulse 10 to 12 times to make a crumbly mixture. Transfer to a large mixing bowl and chill in the refrigerator for 10 minutes.
Add 1 cup of the chilled parsnip puree and the pepper to the dough and gently mix the puree in with the flour using your hands until incorporated and the dough starts to stick together. This is a very sticky dough. You mix it in by turning over in the bowl, sort of like very gently kneading it.
Turn out onto a lightly floured work surface and knead very gently, folding the dough over several times and gently patting down until it starts to held together. Roll out gently, dusting with more flour if necessary to 3/4 inch thickness. Fold dough crosswise in thirds and roll out very gently again. Repeat this and roll out to about 1/2 inch thickness.
Using a floured 2-inch biscuit cutter stamp out 10 to 12 rounds. Place 1 inch apart on a baking sheet.
Bake the biscuits for 12 minutes or until golden. Brush melted butter over hot biscuits. Remove to a wire rack. Serve warm. If using later wrap in a cloth napkin or clean kitchen towel, place in a bowl and keep in a warm place, such as on top of the oven.
Local ingredients used
Parsnips, Buckwheat Blossom Farm
Buttermilk, Balfour Farm Dairy
Butter, Maine Country Butter
Baking powder, Bakewell Cream Baking Powder
Honey, Swallowtail Farm
Black pepper, Gryffon Ridge Spice Merchants