Parsnips aren’t sexy. They wouldn’t win a beauty pageant. Their whiskery rootlets could use a shave, and when you scratch the surface, they have an oddly floral scent, vaguely reminiscent of a elderly grandmother’s perfume. Neither colorful like their cousin, the carrot, nor voluptuous like a beet, parsnips simply don’t grab your attention at all. In fact, I’ve managed to ignore them for years. But when you belong to a CSA, you get what you get. And trust me, you get parsnips. Then you decide what the hell to do with them. Which is not necessarily a bad thing. I’m as guilty as anyone of getting stuck in the rut of cooking with the same old, familiar ingredients.
One winter, I tried roasting parsnips, but that floral aroma intensified upon tasting, which I didn’t like one bit. As part of a root vegetable mash, they overpowered more delicate specimens. So I kept roasting them, and eating them, all the while disliking them, only because I hate to waste perfectly good, fresh produce.
Then I found this soup recipe. I might not have enjoyed it either, if I hadn’t substituted a leftover head of roasted garlic for the raw garlic in the original recipe. Oh yes, I did. And it was absolutely the right thing to do. You know that deep, earthy, mellow sweetness that develops when you roast garlic? Turns out it’s the perfect balance to that floral thing.
Unlike my buttery oatmeal cherry scones, this soup is also the antidote to all that holiday indulgence last month. Thick and creamy, with a complex layering of flavors, it relies on puréed vegetables for richness instead of the more commonly used butter and cream. (Although topping it with a dollop of crème fraîche, in the more forgiving months of February or March, wouldn’t hurt it any.) Carrots give it a gorgeous sunny color and fresh ginger adds spice to warm your soul on freezing winter nights. Which, if made for 2, and eaten by candlelight, or a blazing fire, could be considered kind of sexy after all.
Parsnip and Roasted Garlic Soup
adapted from Gourmet, February 1990
½ large onion, finely chopped (approximately 1 cup)
2 teaspoons minced peeled fresh ginger
1 large carrot, thinly sliced (approximately 1 cup)
1/2 cup thinly sliced celery
2 tablespoons olive oil
3/4 pound parsnips, peeled and cut into 1/8- inch slices (about 2 cups)
1 head of roasted garlic, released from the skin
3 cups chicken or vegetable broth (preferably homemade), plus extra to thin to desired consistency
Salt and pepper, to taste
Please note that this recipe serves 2, unlike most of the recipes in this blog. It can easily be doubled or tripled to serve more. Also, I find this soup to be very filling.
In a heavy saucepan cook the onion, ginger, carrot, and celery in the olive oil over moderately low heat, stirring, until the onion is softened. Add the parsnips, the roasted garlic, and broth, and bring the liquid to a boil. Turn down the heat until the soup is at a simmer, and simmer the mixture, covered, for 15 minutes, or until the vegetables are very tender. (This step has always taken more like 25 minutes for me.)
Purée the soup in a blender, in two batches (being very careful to hold the lid securely), then return the soup to the pan. Or you can use an immersion blender right in the pan, as I do. Stir in enough additional broth to thin the soup to the desired consistency, if necessary, and add salt and pepper to taste. Don’t be shy with the salt, as it makes all the flavors in the soup pop. However, if you are using salted broth, you may need to be careful not to over-salt!
*Garnish, if desired, with a sprig of thyme, small croutons, crème fraîche, sour cream, plain yogurt, a swirl of cream, or toasted pumpkin seeds. All these options work very well with this soup. I know, because I’ve tried them all!
If you have any soup leftover, you will need more liquid (broth or water) to thin it when you reheat it. Parsnips have a lot starch in them, so the mixture will resemble a mash after refrigerating it overnight.