Parsnips might be one of the more overlooked root vegetables, the C-list has-been of the produce bin. Cultivated by the ancient Greeks and Romans and a staple of Yuletide feasts of yore, they eventually fell out of favor when potatoes came on the scene. Parsnips never quite captured the imagination of the New World, and Europe all but abandoned it as a sweetener once sugar became plentiful and cheap. Yesterday’s news, the parsnip.
But considering how delicately earthy-sweet and tasty these veggies can be, maybe they just need a better publicist? A For Your Consideration campaign to call their own.
A member of the carrot family (they look like ivory-pale monster carrots), they’re less starchy than the potato and sweeter than their orange cousins, particularly in winter. Raw parsnip has an astringent scent, but when cooked (roasted, mashed or as a base for a soup, as we’re doing here) it mellows into a fragrant mildness with a distinctly, er, parsnippish (parsnippy?) high note. The aroma is unique to the parsnip, let’s put it that way. Larger parsnips will have a tough, woody core, so when you’re at the market look for unblemished, firm, medium-sized specimens (about four to a pound). Store them in the refrigerator to coax out their sweetness.
And for a warming, late-winter meal (without the attendant calorie overload), purée the mineral-rich vegetable with stock and other aromatics into this refined, comforting soup. Serve with a few slices of pumpernickel toast and roasted cauliflower and cozy on up to the table. It’s a comeback.
Winter Parsnip Soup
adapted from Deborah Madison’s The Greens Cookbook; serves four to six
- 2 lbs medium parsnips
- 3-4 Tbsp butter
- 1 medium yellow onion, roughly chopped
- 3 medium carrots, peeled and diced
- 2 celery stalks, diced
- 1 lb leeks (white and light green parts only), cut lengthwise, rinsed well & sliced
- 1 quart (32 oz) vegetable stock plus 2 C water
- 1 1/2 tsp salt
- 1 1/2 tsp fresh tarragon, minced
- 2 tsp fresh thyme, minced
- 1 tsp fresh rosemary, minced
- 2 tsp red wine vinegar
- 1/4 – 3/4 C heavy cream (optional)
Prep the vegetables and herbs except for the parsnips. In a heavy soup pot, heat the butter over medium. Cook the onions, stirring occasionally, for 10-15 minutes until golden and melted. Meanwhile, prep the parsnips: trim the tops, peel and cut lengthwise. With a knife or vegetable peeler, cut or scrape out and discard the fibrous core. Roughly chop; the parsnips will cook faster than the other vegetables, so cut them into larger pieces.
Add all the vegetables, herbs, salt, stock and water to the pot. Bring to a boil and reduce down to a simmer. Cook, partly covered, until the vegetables are softened but not mushy, about 15-20 minutes.
Let the soup cool slightly. Pass through a food mill or purée in a food processor until smooth. Return to the pot and add the vinegar and cream, if using. Adjust the salt to your taste. Garnish with additional herbs, if desired, and serve very warm.
Note: to make this recipe vegan, substitute olive oil for the butter and omit the cream (or substitute additional stock). The soup can be made well ahead.