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Rested Root

Savoring spring with the help of a few hibernating vegetables

Author Jolyon Helterman

0513parsnips

PHOTO BY SHUTTERSTOCK

NEW ENGLAND’S WINTERS can last well into May, but Charles Draghi, chef-owner of Piemontese restaurant Erbaluce in Boston’s Bay Village neighborhood, says he never resents watching the rest of the country binge blithely on asparagus and fiddleheads. His favorite cold-climate consolation prize: spring-dug parsnips, which spend all winter in the frozen soil and, in the process, undergo a semi-magical transformation. The starches convert to sugars, leaving the parsnips sweeter and more complex.

“The fibrousness breaks down, and they take on a honeyed hazelnut flavor and an earthiness reminiscent of white truffles,” says Draghi. “There’s a faint pheromonal quality, almost a perspiration scent.” (In a good way, he assures us.)

From the moment the ground thaws enough to rescue the root veggies from their frostbound cocoons in mid-April until they’re gone in early June, Draghi tosses them into dishes with springlike abandon. Look for them in everything from a fricassee-style base (with green onions) for freshwater eel to a creamy gelato with local maple syrup.

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