Baked Parsnip Fries with Creamy Balsamic Reduction Dip
My husband loves potatoes in any form and thought he was eating French fries until I told him he just inhaled a plate of parsnips.
What’s a parsnip, he asked?
Good question. Parsnips are a root vegetable and they have more in common with carrots than with potatoes. Visually, parsnips resemble carrots and are those long, pointy vegetables with hash-marked skins that you’ve probably noticed them in the grocery store near the carrots, turnips, rutabagas, and fennel but may have dismissed them as a funny-looking blonder-hued carrot. Parsnips are usually pale in color, ranging from creamy tones to pale yellow, and are much lighter than their orange cousins, carrots.
Parsnips tend to be sweeter than carrots and more buttery, which is accentuated in the cooking process. Parsnips have a slightly spicy flavor, in a similar way that ginger and cardamom pack some warm-toned heat and spice. Until Scott was hip to the parsnip bait-and-switch, he said he liked the ginger I used in the potatoes. Exactly.
Nutritionally speaking, parsnips are very high in vitamin C, and have ample amounts of manganese, potassium, and folic acid. They’re also excellent sources of soluble and insoluble fiber, something which potatoes lack.
To make the fries, I peeled and trimmed the parsnips, and at their thickest part, I kept the slices about one-quarter inch wide. Cutting them thin enough so they crisp up nicely, but not too thin so they don’t shrivel up into little char-broiled nothings, is important.
Then place the trimmed parsnips in a large bowl and sprinkle and toss them with a bit of cornstarch, which helps them to crisp up better as they bake. Transfer the coated parsnips to a lined baking sheet, drizzle with olive or vegetable oil, sprinkle with salt, pepper, and any optional seasonings from curry to cayenne that strike your fancy, and then bake.
After about twenty minutes of cooking, flip the parsnips over and drizzle with a few additional tablespoons of oil, if they’ve dried out. Bake for an additional fifteen minutes or until they’re as browned and crispy as you like.
I find the secrets to getting baked vegetable fries crispy is both the cornstarch and quite a hot oven. The oven needs to be at a higher temperature so it flash-cooks the vegetables and allows them bake up crispier, rather than a low and slow oven, which is geared toward tenderizing food. Because of the hot oven, watch the parsnips closely as the baking time draws near because they will have a tendency to go from browned to burned in those final moments.
Because of the fibrous nature of parsnips, the fries have plenty of texture and chewiness, much more so than a potato-based fry. All that texture makes for some great dipping. The more you chew, the more you want to dip. And dip again. I like a little food with my dip and the parsnips are firm enough to really dredge through a bowl of thick, creamy dip, and they hold up to it without caving or breaking, much like a thick-cut French fry can really hold up to maximum ketchup slathering.
The dip is a blend of balsamic reduction and (veagn) sour cream, or use Greek yogurt. I love balsamic vinegar and vinegar of any kind. Sometimes I let my homemade kombucha ferment just to the edge of turning into vinegar and relish in those tangy, pungent, sinus-clearing sips. Balsamic reduction is especially delightful because it concentrates the vinegar’s punch, yet the sharp tanginess is mitigated by brown sugar, and I really could eat the thick sauce from a spoon.
People tend to make a big deal about balsamic reduction and when I see jars of very overpriced balsamic reduction in stores, I cringe. My version takes ten minutes and costs pennies to make. Combine balsamic vinegar and brown sugar in a small saucepan, heat until they boil, and just allow the mixture to reduce. Because I keep the heat higher than just a low-grade simmer, the reduction goes very fast, in about five minutes, and it’s so simple.
Combine the mouth-puckering reduction with a bit of sour cream for a perfectly creamy and cooling dip. The cooling effect of the sour cream balanced the inherent warming qualities of the parsnips and it was a great balance. Plus, I liked the pale plum color of the dip. Bonus points for purple dip.
I started with two pounds of parsnips before trimming or cooking them and an hour later, every last morsel had been inhaled. My five year old loved them and dipped hers in ketchup, Scott liked his with Homemade Spicy Honey Mustard, and I was in balsamic reduction heaven.
Ever since I made these, Scott’s been asking for more parsnip fries. Not French fries; parsnip fries. And so I consider this recipe a success on more than one level.
Parsnips fries are slightly sweet, with just a hint of spiciness and a peppery nature. They're more buttery than a white potato and have loads of extra nutrients. Baking, rather than frying, keeps them healthier with sacrificing flavor. The balsamic reduction comes together in minutes and when sour cream is stirred in, the cool and creamy, tangy, dip pairs perfectly with the hot fries right out of the oven.
For the Parsnip Fries
2 pounds parsnips, peeled and trimmed into fries about 5-inches long by about 1/4-inch wide (2 pounds is shown in the photos, reduce batch size if desired)
2 tablespoons corn starch
4 tablespoons+ olive oil, divided
salt and pepper, to taste
For the Creamy Balsamic Reduction Dip
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
3 tablespoons brown sugar, packed (either light or dark), or to taste
1/2 cup sour cream, or to taste (vegan or regular sour cream may be used; Greek yogurt may be substitued)
For the Parsnip Fries - Preheat oven to 425F and line two baking sheets with Silpat liners, aluminum foil, or parchment paper; set aside. Peel and trim parsnips into fries, about 4 to 5 inches long, and about 1/4-inch wide (they do shrivel, but not as much as carrots or sweet potatoes).
Place parsnips in a large mixing bowl and sprinkle with corn starch and using your hands, toss to coat evenly. Transfer parsnips to prepared baking trays, divided evenly, about one pound per tray. Drizzle about 1 tablespoon olive oil over each tray and toss parsnips with hands to disperse and coat evenly. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Prior to baking, arrange parsnips on the trays so they are not touching each other and have air space between them; air circulating allows them to crisp up better in the oven.
Bake on the first side for about 20 to 25 minutes. Remove trays from the oven, flip parsnips over with a tongs, drizzle with about 1 tablespoon oil over each tray, and bake for an additional 15 minutes, or until parsnips are browned and crispy. Baking times will vary greatly due to size parsnips were trimmed, the moisture content in them, how thick the cornstarch was applied, how much oil is used, and personal taste preferences. They will be prone to burning in the final minutes of cooking so keep a watchful eye as this is a very hot oven. Remove from oven and serve immediately with ketchup, mustard, Homemade Spicy Honey Mustard, barbeque sauce, sour cream, salsa, guacamole, or balsamic reduction or creamy balsamic reduction dip.
For the Creamy Balsamic Reduction Dip - While the parsnips are baking, combine balsamic vinegar and brown sugar in a small saucepan and heat over medium to medium-high heat, stirring constantly until sugar dissolves. Allow mixture to come to a boil and boil fairly rapidly for about 3 to 5 minutes, or until volume has reduced by about half, stirring intermittently while it boils. Keep a watchful eye so mixture doesn't boil over, which its prone to doing.
Immediately transfer the reduction to a heat-safe container or bowl and do not let it cool in the saucepan because it will be prone to sticking to the saucepan as it cools and it will turn into a sticky, hardened mess on the saucepan and the scrubbing becomes epic; transfer immediately to a container and then soak the pan.
After balsamic has cooled for about 10 minutes, combine about 2 tablespoons balsamic reduction with sour cream, to taste, playing with the ratios as desired. Stir until mixture is smooth. Serve immediately with fries. Extra balsamic reduction will keep for months in an airtight container in the refrigerator. After balsamic reduction has been combined with the sour cream, I suggest consuming it within a week.
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Have you tried parsnips or made any non-potato based fries?
Balsamic vinegar fan?
I’d love to hear about your favorite parsnip recipes or recipes for baked fries of any sort.
Or hear if you love vinegar and vinegar recipes as much as I do.