BAR Test Kitchen: Parsnips: Back to Roman Roots

Parsnips are an underappreciated vegetable in the U.S. Depending on where you are, they can be difficult to track down, and many Americans have only a vague notion of what a parsnip actually is. In my opinion, however, they are delicious and well worth the hunt.

For this recipe, we turn to ancient Roman gourmand Apicius and his De Re Coquinaria (On the Subject of Cooking). Apicius included an exotic spice in this dish—the peppercorn! When Egypt became a Roman province under Octavian (the future Roman emperor Augustus) in 30 B.C.E., the Romans opened up new Red Sea ports and improved trade with India. Spices (among other things) began pouring in, and the Romans could not get enough. Spices eventually became so common that people began pointing out when pepper was not used. 1

Apicius’s recipe for parsnips is a simple but tasty one:

Sphondyli elixi ex sale, oleo, mero, coriandro viridi conciso et piper integro.

Boil the parsnips in salt water [and season them] with pure oil, chopped green coriander, and whole pepper2

Experimenting with this dish, food historian Patrick Faas added measurements to the ancient recipe. 3 For BAR’s recipe, I modified Faas’s recipe by reducing the portion from six to four parsnips, increasing the amount of water, and adding more liquid in the form of wine (idea taken from another of Apicius’s parsnip recipes). It is unclear whether the recipe calls for fresh coriander (cilantro leaves for the Americans among us) or ground coriander. I chose ground coriander seeds, but I think it would have been equally tasty with fresh leaves.

Finally, a note on the wine. I used an Italian white wine (a pinot grigio) because I was trying to be as authentic as possible (Rome, Italian wine … it was as close as I could get). If you do not want to use wine, you could easily replace it with chicken or vegetable stock or white grape juice.

I hope this Roman dish will help give parsnips the credit they deserve!

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Coriander Parsnips (BAR’s variation)


Ingredients :


4 whole parsnips
Enough water to cover parsnips
2 tsp olive oil
¼ cup white wine
1 ½ tsp coriander
A few peppercorns
2 tsp olive oil or butter




(1) Clean and peel the parsnips

Photo: John Gregory Drummond.

(2) Cut into pieces—long “fry” shapes work well here.

Photo: John Gregory Drummond.

(3) Put Parsnips in a pan.

Photo: John Gregory Drummond.

(4) Add olive oil, white wine, coriander, and peppercorns.

Photo: John Gregory Drummond.

(5) Add water, bring to a boil, then simmer gently for 10 minutes or until parsnips are tender (use a fork to check).

Photo: John Gregory Drummond.

(6) Drain and serve with olive oil (as shown here) or butter. Enjoy!

Photo: John Gregory Drummond.

Based on Strata: “BAR Test Kitchen” from the November/December 2019 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review.


1. Patrick Faas, Around the Roman Table: Food and Feasting in Ancient Rome (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1994), p. 20.

2. Apicius, De Re Coquinaria–2.2. English translation by Joseph Dommers Vehling in Cookery and Dining in Imperial Rome, 1st ed. (Chicago: Walter M. Hill, 1936).

3. Fass, Roman Table, p. 34.

Related reading in Bible History Daily:

BAR Test Kitchen: Roman Custard

Biblical Bread: Baking Like the Ancient Israelites by Cynthia Shafer-Elliott

Fruit in the Bible by David Moster

The 10 Strangest Foods in the Bible by David Moster

14,400-Year-Old Flatbreads Unearthed in Jordan

A Feast for the Senses … and the Soul

Making Sense of Kosher Laws


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