Simple Sides: Pears and Parsnips
By Dennis Linden
Competing schedules in the day-to-day lives of a busy modern family make it difficult to share a home-cooked meal together, but not impossible. In fact, with a little planning, cooking together can become a fun family event and learning opportunity. This feature will focus on providing a child or a group of children, working together under the supervision of an adult, with one uncomplicated, healthy and delicious side dish recipe. The dishes will be centered on seasonal fresh produce items; the recipes will always contain tasks will allow even the youngest kitchen helper to contribute to the family meal. Parents should always read through each recipe carefully to judge the division of labor based on age and ability as well as to identify where adult attention might be especially needed.
Many of the recipes presented here will seem very basic -- this is by design. It is hoped that these simple preparations will provide the culinary foundation and confidence to inspire kids to try more challenging recipes as their experience in the kitchen develops. Melissa’s encourages parents to find the time to gather as a family unit at least once a week for a dinner that everyone pitches in to prepare. It’s a wonderful way to teach children some basic cooking skills and, more importantly, cooking with your children will build memories in all of your hearts forever.
In February, as winter hits full stride, one of the few domestic fruits available in abundance are fresh pears out of storage from the fall harvest in the Pacific Northwest. At this time of year, retail pear displays offer a large selection of varieties, each with a unique flavor, texture and coloring at promotional pricing. Sounds like the perfect time for a savory pear cooking lesson to me! Have some fun showing your young kitchen helpers how they can repurpose this juicy hand fruit into a savory side dish as a part of the next family meal.
There are many varieties of pears that cook up deliciously. Bosc, Bartlett, Red Anjou, Green Anjou, Starkrimson, Asian, Comice – to name just few of the most popular “flavors”. However, for this recipe, the variety of pear is less important than its degree of ripeness. Choose only pears that are quite firm to the squeeze test; a ripe pear will have the tendency to turn mushy or fall apart during the cooking process, which will ruin the crunchiness that is a part of this dish. While the sugars of a firm pear have not fully developed, cooking does seem to sweeten the fruit up some and the natural sweetness of the parsnips will add to the flavor.
The prep for this recipe is quick and very straightforward. For the older child with basic knife skills, there are several opportunities to practice some slicing and dicing. A younger child can still be assigned of stripping the fresh herbs from their branches as well as literally tossing the ingredients together with both hands!
The real culinary lesson here to impress upon your kitchen crew is that trying seemingly odd combinations of ingredients and the use of a few simple herbs (and garlic, course) will turn a familiar snack fruit into a side dish that would go well with any chicken or pork main entrée. Enjoy the season!
Roasted Pears and Parsnips
4 firm Pears, about 2 pounds
2 pounds Parsnips, sliced small rounds
2 Tablespoons Lemon Juice
1 Tablespoon Olive Oil
2 clove Garlic, thinly sliced
1 teaspoon of minced fresh Thyme
½ teaspoon of minced fresh Rosemary
Pinch of ground Dried Sage
½ teaspoon Kosher Salt
Freshly Ground Pepper
What the kids can do:
Peel, core and dice the pears.
Peel and dice the parsnip.
Mince and combine the rosemary and thyme.
Toss them in a bowl with the lemon juice, olive oil, garlic, thyme, salt and pepper.
Place pears in a foil or parchment-lined baking dish.
What the supervising adult should do:
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Roast for 30 minutes or until tender. The baking time will vary depending upon the type of pears and their level of ripeness, so keep a watchful eye and test often for tenderness.