Wednesday, March 12, 2008
Like A Carrot...Only Better.
It recently occurred to me that there are several vegetables currently in season that I am almost entirely unfamiliar with. Since I've vowed to try cooking with ingredients that are new to me, I figured I'd take some time this week to investigate the parsnip. Word on the street was that it resembled a carrot, but otherwise I knew absolutely nothing about it until I started researching. It is indeed related to the carrot, and in fact, kind of looks like its curvy, albino cousin. I tried a few raw pieces before cooking it and it really did taste a lot like a carrot, only slightly sweeter and with a hint of nuttiness. It had the exact same texture and was just as tricky to finely dice without it flying across the room or chopping my finger off.
I was surprised to learn that the parsnip originated in Eurasia, growing for some time along the Mediterranean. It originally grew about the size of a baby carrot and was considered a luxury item by the ancient Romans. Due to their flavor, parsnips were consumed sweetened with honey or in fruit cakes. The parsnip eventually outgrew the Mediterranean, moving north and increasing in size to become the parsnip we see today. They are harvested after the frost (hence their flourishing further north) since they require the cold to convert starch into sugar, giving them their signature flavor (otherwise they'd be a long, bland, super starchy potato), and making the fall and winter the time when they're in season. Parsnips are really durable and stand up to a considerable amount of flavors and preparations. They can be roasted, fried, steamed, braised or mashed, and work in everything from soups to curries.
I decided to go with a soup preparation since I really love purees but haven't really done very many this year. I don't really care much for the sweeter soups that are popular in the fall and winter (butternut squash, pumpkin, etc...) so I thought that maybe this would be a good way to kill two birds with one stone: start cooking with parsnips, learn to love sweeter soups. After looking into several recipes, it appeared that most contained leek or onion, chicken broth, and either a potato or carrot. I decided to go with all of those but the carrot, and throw in a little garlic for good measure. I also decided to make the soup creamy with a nice heaping tablespoon of sour cream, instead of the heavy cream I read about in every other recipe. And of course, because it's not my style to eat something so plain, I topped the whole thing off with some crispy bacon and a nice simple and spicy parsley oil (kind of like a chimichurri). Here's what I came up with:
Creamy Parsnip Soup with Bacon and Parsley Oil
1 medium onion, thinly sliced
2 Tbsp butter
1 Tbsp olive oil
3 large parsnips, peeled and cubed
1 large potato, peeled and cubed
1 garlic clove, roughly chopped
2 cups chicken broth
1 Tbsp sour cream
crispy bacon (optional topping)
1 1/2 Tbsp finely chopped parsley
olive oil (about 1 1/2 Tbsp)
1/4 tsp red pepper flake
1. In a large saucepan, sauté onions, parsnip and potato in butter and olive oil until just starting to brown. Add broth and cook partially covered until vegetables are tender,15 to 20 minutes.
2. Meanwhile, combine all of the ingredients for the parsley oil in a bowl and set aside.
3. Puree the soup in a blender until smooth. Check for seasoning and return to the saucepan. Stir in the sour cream until combined. If the soup seems a bit thick, you can add a few teaspoons of water to thin it out. Top with a swirl of parsley oil and a few bits of bacon. Enjoy!