It was Julia Child who turned me around. One time at a live demo she made a parsnip puree and I was blown away. Certainly there was no confusing this sweet, nutty, velvety puree with a stinky turnip.
How'd she do it? By reserving the liquid in which she cooked the parsnips, boiling it down until it became syrupy, then adding it back to the pureed parsnips. So simple, but such amazing results. This greatly decreases the wateriness that typically afflicts non-starchy vegetables when they're pureed. Indeed, it thickens the puree. And it amps the flavour, too.
This recipe is my adaptation of Julia's original. The biggest change was to reduce the amount of butter quite a bit, which I don't think anyone will miss. (Sorry, Julia!) I never tell my guests what it is when I serve it. Afterward, without fail, they tell me how much they loved the mashed potatoes. I love enlightening them.
Winter is the season for parsnips, though when some varieties get too mature they develop a woody core, which then needs to be cut out. Otherwise, these sneaky little devils are wonderful at Thanksgiving, a lighter alternative to actual mashed potatoes during a feast that's usually one high-calorie dish after another.
MASHED "POTATO" PARSNIPS
Start to finish: 50 minutes (20 minutes active)
2 pounds medium parsnips, peeled and sliced 1/2-inch thick
Kosher salt, to taste
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
Ground black pepper, to taste
Place the parsnips in a large saucepan, then add enough cold water to cover by 1 inch. Bring to a boil over high heat and add a pinch of salt. Reduce the heat to medium-high and simmer, adding a little more water if necessary to keep the parsnips barely covered, until tender, 25 to 30 minutes.
Drain and reserve the cooking liquid. Set the parsnips aside and return the liquid to the pan. Bring to a boil over high heat. Boil until reduced to 3/4 cup. Return the parsnips to the pan and add the butter. Working in batches, transfer the contents of the saucepan to a food processor and puree until smooth. Return to the saucepan, season with salt and pepper, then heat over medium until hot.
Nutrition information per serving: 190 calories; 30 calories from fat (16 per cent of total calories); 3.5 g fat (2 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 10 mg cholesterol; 41 g carbohydrate; 9 g fiber; 11 g sugar; 3 g protein; 140 mg sodium.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Sara Moulton was executive chef at Gourmet magazine for nearly 25 years, and spent a decade hosting several Food Network shows. She currently stars in public television's "Sara's Weeknight Meals" and has written three cookbooks, including "Sara Moulton's Everyday Family Dinners."