Parsnips are a quintessential cold weather vegetable. They look like carrots but are white and somewhat sweeter, characteristically starchy with a hint of citrus.
Like many of the tastiest foodstuffs, parsnips were once a staple among the poor in Italy and elsewhere in Europe. When the potato came from the New World and disseminated throughout the continent, parsnips fell out of favor. For centuries, they were used almost exclusively as animal feed.
Parsnips are complex in flavor, remarkably versatile and easy to cook. Their earthiness works well in broths and soups but also comes through when roasted or braised.
I like to slice parsnips thinly and cook them with rendered pancetta for a simultaneously crisp and toothsome pasta sauce. Don't crisp the slivers like potato chips, just cook all the way through and toss with spaghetti and a few ladles of pasta water.
I even serve parsnips instead of mashed potatoes as a Thanksgiving side, adding Yukon gold potatoes and yams. The combination of sweet potato and parsnip might seem like it would be too sweet, but it creates the perfect balance.
This dish works next to a turkey or with poultry or braised meet for weekday meals. It beautifully captures the flavors of autumn.