Last week Spring briefly stopped by to say hello before slinking away like an opportunistic fox from a closely guarded hen house. Apparently, it wasn’t quite ready to make a full appearance despite being heralded by carpets of crocuses and sunny daffodils. Icy winds and snow have followed in the wake of it’s retreat leaving some people feeling a little miffed at being misled by Spring’s fleeting visit.
Ordinarily I wouldn’t say I am a fan of cold weather but March snow tends to dissipate as quickly as it arrives. This present cold snap means I can prolong my winter passion for soups whether it’s of the wholesome chicken or the silken vegetable variety. I also believe if you are going to make your own soup it’s only fair to do it justice by serving it with a decent dunker. Perhaps some homemade bread or even a savoury muffin.
I feel savoury muffins have been overlooked in favour of their more popular sweet cousin. If you can get your head around the fact that they are more like a bread roll rather than a cake they make a great accompaniment to soup. By their nature, muffins are not as delicate as other cakes so can cope with being dipped into the steaming depths of a bowl of soup (although admittedly they aren’t quite so good as bread at mopping up the residue once the bowl has been emptied). In bite size mini versions they also make a great canapé.
In much the same way as savoury muffins, parsnips also get a bad rap. I’ve never really understood why. They are versatile being great roasted, in gratins and can be turned into lovely soups. Their pronounced sweetness works well in savoury and sweet dishes. Their fall from grace has been a relatively recent one. Dorothy Hartley notes the parsnip was once adored in this country for its sweet flavour and because it could stay in the ground during the winter (knowledgeable vegetable growers will tell you that parsnips are at their best after the first frost). Jane Grigson lists the medieval doctors reasons for favoring this root including curing toothache and stomach ache. When boiled in milk the liquor was given against dysentery. They also reputedly increased men’s libido and reduced swollen testicles should you ever need a cure for either of these ailments.
So in praise of two kitchen outcasts I am giving you a recipe for parsnip, parmesan and pancetta muffins. Should you need a further nudge to persuade you to try these savoury cakes then bear in mind that Bacon Connoisseurs Week starts on 18 March.
Parsnip, Parmesan and Pancetta Muffins
- 350g parsnips, peeled and cut into 2cm chunks
- 25g unsalted butter
- 80g cubed pancetta (if cubes aren’t available use slices and roughly chop)
- 200g self raising flour, sifted
- ½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
- ½ tsp fine sea salt
- 30g grated parmesan plus 1 tbsp for the topping
- ½ tsp dried thyme
- Pinch of cayenne pepper
- 200ml buttermilk
- 2 eggs, lightly beaten
- 2 tsp whole grain mustard
- Preheat the oven to 180°C. Line a 12 hole muffin tin with paper cases.
- Cook the parsnips in some lightly salted water until tender (about 25-30 minutes). Drain then mash or blitz with a stick blender with the butter. Allow to cool slightly.
- Dry fry the pancetta pieces until golden brown. Drain on some kitchen towel.
- Sieve the flour, bicarbonate of soda and salt into a large bowl. Add 30g parmesan, thyme and cayenne then add the pancetta and mix well.
- Beat the buttermilk, eggs, mustard and mashed parsnip together. Make a well in the centre of the dry ingredients then pour in the parsnip mix . Swiftly but gently combine the ingredients. Don’t over mix – it’s OK if the mixture is a bit lumpy.
- Spoon into muffin cases and sprinkle with the remaining parmesan. Bake for 20 minutes or until golden. These are delicious warm although they tend to stick to the muffin cases when eaten straight from the oven. They are just as good cold.