Thursday June 14, 2012 | 11:36 AM
Nothing gets people talking quite like a parsnip.

I picked up a monster-sized one (a full 1.5 pounds of root vegetable wonder) at the Portland Farmer's Market yesterday. It was another foray into the land of vegetables I've never eaten/cooked/seen before because they were never served during school lunches under a blanket of Velveeta cheese.

I didn't need a bag, I told the parsnip purveyor, because I wanted to run through Monument Square carrying this gargantuan root vegetable like an Olympic torch. I ended up walking with it instead. And people started commenting on it.

"Wow, nice parsnip" and "That thing's huge" and "Is that a carrot?" and "It looks like a Dr. Seuss character."

I decided to place it on my desk to keep the conversation going. A coworker tried to balance it on my head like a dunce cap. I added decorations to make it look like a Christmas tree. At home, I tested it out as a centerpiece.

And while the parsnip performed well in every role it was cast, I decided that being eaten is a parsnip's true purpose. And I don't want to stand in the way of root vegetable destiny.

So I made Sweet and Gooey Parsnips and Carrot & Parsnip Latkes .

But not before I peeled that parsnip.

Sweet & Gooey Parsnips (I'd prefer to call them "parsnip fingers" or "squishy parsnips" or "sauteed parsnips you can stack like Lincoln Logs.")
1 pound parsnips
2 tablespoons butter
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Peel the parsnips (or parsnip, if you bought a huge one) and cut into sticks.

Melt butter in heavy skillet. Add parsnips, flip to coat and sprinkle with nutmeg. Cover tightly and saute on medium heat for 10 minutes (mine took a bit longer - I cut 'em thick). They're done when they take on a browned-on-the-bottom-and-totally-relaxed-thoughout quality. Salt and pepper to taste.

Carrot & Parsnip Latkes
2 medium carrots, peeled
5 small parsnips (about 1 pound), peeled
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 large eggs, beaten
1 teaspoon minced chives or scallion
1 teaspoon chopped parsley
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Peanut oil for frying

Grate the carrots and parsnips coarsely. This will take much effort and whining about "tired arms."

Toss with the flour. Add the eggs, chives, parsley and salt and pepper to taste. Mix until evenly moistened. Then continue to mush it in your hands because it feels kinda gross and awesome at the same time.

Heat peanut oil in a saute pan until it is barely smoking. Drop in the batter by tablespoons and flatten. Fry over medium heat until brown on both sides.

Yields 16 to 18 two-inch pancakes, but if you're like me and tend to eat as you fry, you'll end up with about five to share with friends, family and significant others.

Both recipes were a parsnip success - the sweet and gooey parsnips were almost like french fries. And the latkes were the first fried cake/fritter I've ever made that didn't give up and fall to pieces in the pan.

I like these parsnips - both the conversation they incite and the latkes they produce.

About the Author

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Shannon Bryan is a feature writer for the Portland Press Herald and content producer for MaineToday Media's entertainment website, www.mainetoday.com.

And here's a well-known truth: Shannon can't cook. She's also ostroconophobic (in Maine?!?), but in a foodie place like southern Maine, she's determined to learn how to cook, eat, and order with the best of them. Read about her culinary crusade:
Pans on fire

She's also an investigator into all that's strange and entertaining to do around here. Those findings are gathered here:
Out Going: Things to do in southern Maine

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