The beauty of root vegetable soups is that along with their bone-warming nature, they really don't require a recipe. You can pretty much simmer a whole pot of root vegetables, in any combination, with water or stock, purée it in the blender and serve it topped off with a swirl of good olive oil or shredded cheese and a dash of spice. In just a few minutes with very little effort, you'll have a bowl of creamy comfort (without much cream).
When it comes to roots, parsnips are seriously underrated and overlooked. They resemble a rough wrinkled white carrot, but are a bit sweeter and earthier, with hints of spice and licorice notes that are closer in flavor to winter squash. Parsnips grow prolifically in our region and they pair beautifully with the range of other seasonal roots. My grandmother cooked parsnips and potatoes into a buttery mash; I prefer them roasted with carrots and turnips in a hot oven until they caramelize and become toasty brown.
At the market, look for medium-size roots and avoid any that are shriveled or deeply nicked. When home, wrap the parsnips in a damp towel and store in the crisper drawer of the refrigerator; they'll stay fresh for at least two weeks. If you find yourself with an enormous root, you may need to remove the fibrous core. Just cut the root into quarters lengthwise, then slice out the core with a sharp knife. Once cut, parsnips tend to oxidize, so if you're preparing them in advance, hold the cut pieces in lemon juice or acidulated water (water with a little citrus juice or vinegar added) to prevent browning.
Parsnip soup, served with a crisp salad and a hunk of rough bread to wipe out the bowl, is as comforting as a soft sweater on a windy autumn night.
This soup is equally delicious made with a mix of root vegetables such as carrots, rutabagas, turnips, and/or sweet potatoes. Here, it's seasoned simply with a little nutmeg; add a sprinkle of curry powder, paprika or red pepper flakes for zip. From Beth Dooley.
• 2 tbsp. butter
• 1 1/2 c. chopped onion
• 1/4 c. chopped shallot
• 1 c. chopped fennel, diced
• 1 small apple, peeled, cored and chopped
• 2 lb. parsnips, chopped, about 5 c.
• Salt and freshly ground black pepper
• Generous pinch freshly grated nutmeg
• 3 c. vegetable or chicken stock, or more as needed
• 1/2 c. fresh apple cider
• 1/2 c. heavy cream, optional
In a large, heavy soup pot, melt the butter over medium heat and sauté the onion, shallot and fennel together until softened and translucent. Remove all but 1/4 cup of the vegetables and set those aside. Continue cooking the 1/4 cup of vegetables left in the pot until nutty brown. Remove those browned vegetables and set aside for garnish.
Return the remaining sautéed vegetables to the pot, stir in the apple and parsnips and season with salt and pepper. Add a generous pinch of freshly grated nutmeg. Stir in the stock and cider and simmer the soup, uncovered, until the parsnips are very tender, about 25 to 30 minutes, adding more stock if needed. Taste and stir in the cream, if using.
Working in batches, transfer the soup to a blender and purée, then return to the pot. Adjust the seasonings and serve garnished with the caramelized vegetables and more grated nutmeg.
Beth Dooley is the author of "The Perennial Kitchen." Find her at bethdooleyskitchen.com.