Parsnip Pasta with Garlic and Lemon

I’m sitting in my sister’s living room in Minneapolis, MN on a sunny spring day. We’re both wearing slippers and drinking ginger tea. The shelves overflow with books and a vase of yellow tulips on the table catches the afternoon light. Everything seems as it always does when I visit, except that now, a beautiful, perfect little being lies beside us in her moses basket, eyes closed and dreaming, tiny hands in a field goal position, beneath a knitted blanket. My niece, Iduna Grace Lee, was born two weeks ago and I already can’t imagine the world without her.

I’m cooking for my sister and brother in law as they navigate the newness of everything; the sleepless nights, the little small yet monumental moments (a nice burp, for example). My mom and I arrived on Valentine’s day to await the birth, and she went into full-on grandma mode with dinners like slow-cooked brisket with mashed potatoes and black bean stew with avocado and dollops of cumin cream. Now that she’s gone, I’m responsible for feeding the new parents.

I wish I could say I’ve been whipping up three course dinners and multi-tiered layer cakes, stocking the freezer with flavorful soups, and making smoothies every morning. But the truth is, all I want to do is hold my little niece and stare at her incredibly expressive face for hours on end. Who knew changing a diaper could be so endlessly entertaining? My sister and I have reverted to the rounds we used to sing on endless car rides, harmonizing to soothe the baby’s cries, breaking out in fits of laughter with the melodies go awry.

The night before my sister gave birth, we all crowded into our AirBnB kitchen, strategizing a plan for dinner. I wanted to try out a recipe I’d been working on, but had a deadline the following morning. So I sat on the couch instructing as my sister, who by that point could balance a plate of food on her stomach, braved the tragically unequipped kitchen. We all agreed that dinner was perfection. Who knows…maybe it was just so good that Iduna decided to join the world!

A single parsnip loitering in the far reaches of my vegetable drawer inspired this dish, and it really has become my go-to weeknight pasta. As a kid, I remember thinking of parsnips as the the scourge of the vegetable world, their dingy off-white skins conjuring up vague images of 19th century orphanages and bowls of pale, amorphous gruel. As an adult, I can’t get enough of their sweet, earthy flavor, and would like to know why no one force-fed them to me at a young age. Paired with the zesty tang of lemon juice, the salty bite of parmesan cheese, and tossed with lots of garlicky spaghetti, it makes for a simple, surprisingly delicious dinner.

Ingredients

  • 1 package spaghetti
  • 2 T olive oil
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3 medium parsnips, peeled and grated (the largest setting on a cheese grater works perfectly)
  • Zest of 1 lemon
  • Juice of 1/2 lemon
  • 1 heaping cup finely grated parmesan cheese
  • 1/2 bunch of flat leaf parsley, finely chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • Pepper to tase

Instructions

  1. Add a generous teaspoon of salt to a large pot of water and bring to a boil. Cook pasta according to package instructions. Reserve 1/8 cup pasta water before draining.
  2. While the pasta cooks, add 1 tablespoon olive oil to a medium skillet. Once the oil has heated, add minced garlic. Cook for a minute or so, stirring constantly so the garlic doesn’t brown. Add grated parsnip and cook for 5 minutes, stirring frequently. The parsnip absorbs oil quickly, so add the remaining olive oil little by little as you stir. Add the salt, pepper, lemon juice, and 3/4 the lemon zest and cook until the parsnip just begins to turn slightly golden.
  3. Add the cooked pasta to the parsnip mix, then sprinkle in the cheese and half the chopped parsley. Stir to incorporate, adding in the pasta water to thicken.
  4. To serve, sprinkle each plate with the remaining parsley and lemon zest.

Enjoy!!

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