Here is the parsnip soup recipe I mentioned in my recent post on my top six winter soups. It is a soothing yet sophisticated soup with a pure parsnip taste and the lovely contrasting freshness and slight heat of mustard and cress. It was perfect for a winter lunch today with bread and cheese and clementines (or russet apples would be good) afterwards, but is equally at home served in small portions as starter for a winter feast. I found it in Elizabeth David’s Christmas (what, you mean you haven’t bought it yet? See this post if you’re new to the blog), and it has starred on several Christmas Eve menus. It is supposed to be served with a little bowl of croutons fried in clarified butter alongside, but I have to confess that I have never got round to doing this – I tell myself that it is because fried croutons are bad for me, but it’s probably more like laziness. This quantity serves four amply for lunch, or six as a starter.
500g small parsnips (approx 6)
600 ml thin, clear chicken stock (or vegetable stock if you prefer)
1 level tsp rice flour, potato flour or arrowroot
1 punnet mustard and cress
Elizabeth David emphasises that you need young parsnips to make this soup. Scrub the parsnips. Cut out the stem at the top, trim the root and peel off any tough or unappetising-looking skin. You can do this after boiling the parsnips, and it may not be necessary at all if your parsnips are in good nick. I tend to cut them in half lengthwise, so that they cook a little more quickly, but the original recipe cooks them whole.
Put them in a saucepan, cover with cold water, bring to the boil and simmer until soft – 15 minutes if you have halved them, 25 minutes if not. Allow to cool a little (and you can rub off the skins at this stage if you wish – providing you have asbestos hands). Purée the parsnips in the blender (or mouli) with 300ml of the cooking water. I find it easier to get a smooth purée this way, rather than blending the parsnips on their own and then adding the cooking water afterwards as recommended in the original recipe.
Put back into a clean pan, add the stock and season with salt (I used 1 tsp, but the recipe suggests 2-3 tsp) and white pepper if you like (I do). Mix the rice flour or other thickener in a small bowl with a ladleful of soup, then stir this back into the pan and cook gently until it has slightly thickened the soup to the consistency of pouring cream and the soup is hot. Cut off the tops of the mustard and cress with scissors, chop and add to the soup with the cream.
This was originally a French recipe and Elizabeth David explains the derivation of the word pastenak – it is the medieval word for parsnips, a corruption of their Latin name pastinaca.