Wednesday, December 21, 2011


Parsnips are the worst damn vegetable. They're just assertive enough to overpower other ingredients, but they're too bland to eat alone. They're too chewy to stand up to heavy cooking, but they're not crispy enough to satisfy if eaten raw. Even their color brings to mind that inoffensive off-white that you find in corporate hotel rooms. Parsnips are really just joyless carrots.

Jeff has been getting bags upon bags of parsnips in his farm box for the past few weeks and we needed to find something to do with them before Christmas, because God knows that all I want for Christmas is not having any more parsnips in my life. To that end, on Sunday afternoon I made some cream of parsnip soup for lunch. Oh, I tried everything to hide the fact that this soup was a vessel for several pounds of least favorite vegetable. I blended in two cups of cream. I added some curry powder. I asked it, "Please don't taste like parsnips." I poured it over some buttery croutons. I dropped a poached egg on top. I finished it with a jalapeño-infused olive oil. No luck. This was a parsnip soup through and through.

It was also one of the most delicious things I've ever made. The best part was the jalapeño oil floating on top: with each bite, I could feel a single spicy pinprick where a drop of the bitter oil hit my tongue, while the rest of my mouth was swathed with sweet creamy soup and yolk. The effect was totally different from just adding some extra pepper to the soup itself. Special thanks to my friend Jesse for bringing over the jalapeños! I will remember him every time I slick my soup from now on.

I wish I could tell you that I learned something here about myself and my prejudices, how cooking can transform even the basest ingredient into a wonderful result, how a single meal changed my perception of a flavor I'd tasted dozens of times before. Nope! I still hate parsnips.


Cream of parsnip soup

4 tbsp butter
1 medium yellow onion, halved and sliced
1 tbsp curry powder
2-3 pounds parsnips
1 pint heavy cream
sherry vinegar

Melt the butter in a large stockpot. As soon as it's melted, add the sliced onion, curry powder, and a few big pinches of salt. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the onion is tender and sweet but not at all caramelized, about 8-10 minutes.

While the onions are cooking, peel the parnsips and chop them into 1-inch chunks. You're going to be pureeing the soup, so the exact shape of the chunks doesn't really matter, but try to get them all about the same size so that they cook evenly.

Add the parsnips and cream to the onions in the stockpot, and then add cold water until the vegetable mixture is completely covered. Add another big pinch of salt. Bring the mixture to a simmer over medium-high heat, then reduce the heat to low and cover the stockpot. Cook the parsnips, covered, over low heat until completely tender, about 20 minutes. At this point, you can skim off the milky foam that's probably accumulated on top of your soup, but it's not crucial.

Turn off the heat and puree the soup with an immersion blender until it's completely smooth, about 2 minutes. If you really abhor lumpy soup, you can push it through a strainer, but I find that soups like this are already pretty smooth without doing anything extra. Taste the soup and adjust the seasoning with salt and a few drops of sherry vinegar. If the soup looks too thick, blend in a little extra water. Trust me, the soup will still be plenty creamy.

I served this with a handful of croutons toasted in butter, a poached egg, jalapeno olive oil, and the faintest whisper of smoked paprika.

PS -- This soup would be way better if you made it with celery root, yukon gold potatoes, winter squash, parsley root, rutabagas, or turnips.

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