What's in Season: Chef Alex Sze Provides a Warm Parsnip, Frisee, and Pancetta Salad for Parsnip Season

Consider the parsnip the anti-lobster, declining over millennia from elitist to plebian. What was once a highlight of Roman emperors’ buffets became a staple of European serfs’ stewpots, relegated to the lowly caste of cucina povera. Well, thankfully, that caste has since been released, and the parsnip is once again celebrated for its robust flavors and versatile heartiness. How bereft my braises would be without parsnips, how woeful my soup bowls, briskets, and lamb shanks.

This is the season the celebration begins. Parsnips are about to grace our greenmarkets, though, like carrots, they can remain in the ground and be harvested as needed. Buy them in bulk; they become sweeter after several weeks stored, unwashed, in the fridge. And think thin; the hefty ones often have a woody core. Then just peel, slice, and savor their nutty sweetness. Parsnips can be roasted, sautéed, steamed, or simmered—just add them to soups and braises toward the end of cooking to avoid mushiness. Or shred them raw into salads. Like potatoes, they’ll darken after peeling, so either cook them immediately or hold them in lemon-infused water.

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Chef Alex Sze knows all the tricks. At Juniper (575 Warburton Ave, Hastings-on-Hudson 914-478-2542; juniperhastings.com), parsnips cavort all over his menu in soups, pastas, roasts, and salads. “There’s a ton of sugar in them, so they caramelize really well,” he says, extolling their “nutty flavor, especially at this time of year.” Combined with hearty autumn herbs, butter, and bacon, at Juniper, the earthy parsnip attains celestial rank. Consider Sze’s warm salad, the roasted parsnips tossed with pancetta and crowned with a fried egg and a dusting of pecorino. Or his pancetta-flecked pasta dish, its parsnip batons first roasted with rendered bacon fat, rosemary, and sage. His soup is a simple paean to parsnips’ sweetness, the vegetable first sweated with onion, garlic, thyme, and bay leaf, then puréed with vegetable stock (right, no bacon). It’s autumn at its best, prime root-vegetable season, and plebian never tasted so good.

Warm Parsnip, Frisée, and Pancetta Salad
(Courtesy of Alex Sze, Juniper)
(Serves 4)

For Parsnips:
5 parsnips, peeled and cut into batons
   (2-inch-long sticks)
2 Tbsp unsalted butter, melted
2 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
4 sprigs thyme

Preheat oven to 400° F. Toss all ingredients together and place in a shallow roasting pan. Roast 20 minutes, until fork-tender. Remove and keep warm.

For Pancetta Dressing:
¼ lb pancetta (or thick bacon),
    in medium dice
1 Tbsp shallot, minced
1 clove garlic, sliced thin
1 tsp whole-grain mustard
½ tsp rosemary, chopped
1 Tbsp sherry vinegar
2 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil

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In sauté pan over medium heat, crisp pancetta. Remove and set aside. Reserve 1 tablespoon of fat in pan; discard the rest. In same pan, over low heat, cook shallot and garlic in reserved fat until softened. Whisk in mustard, rosemary, and vinegar until combined. Slowly drizzle in olive oil while whisking.

For Salad:
2 ¾-inch slices hearty country bread
olive oil, for brushing
1 clove garlic, halved
1 head frisée lettuce, cleaned, dried, and torn
2 Tbsp chives, minced
2 Tbsp parsley, chopped
salt and fresh-ground black pepper, to taste

Brush bread with oil and toast in oven. Remove and rub toast with cut side of garlic clove. Cut toast into large cubes and place in large salad bowl. Add frisée, chives, parsley, pancetta, and parsnips to bowl. Toss with warm dressing. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Serve as a side dish, or top with fried egg and grated pecorino for a main course.

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