Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Atlantic Provinces Dark Days - Parsnip Soup -tastes great

Today's Dark Days challenge is brought to you by Steve. I asked him to do the writing. It seems a bit harsh because he also does most of the cooking, but I thought the cook's view on local food might be interesting. Steve made a very surprisingly great parsnip soup. He took the photos during his prep time. OK Steve, interest us.

It's of course a great honour to be the first guest blogger on the site. But I do think that I should have been able to dictate this post, since my hands are always messy with food prep stuff.

Since we started the "as local as possible, maybe even more so" diet a few years ago, most people react with a sense of pity when the question comes up of what vegetables to eat in the "dark days." Squash, turnips, parsnips, potatoes (getting spongy), cabbage - yum! Of course, there are always brussel sprouts. A couple of years ago I came across a recipe - cut the sprouts in half, brush with olive oil, roast in the oven, toss with balsamic vinegar, top with bacon bits. By the time it's at the table, you can't taste the sprouts at all. As another winter market regular said, you can make anything swallow-able by adding bacon. Old Man Leudeke was right - "If I'm not mistaken, the answer's bacon." This does seem like cheating, although the bacon is local, and now Boates is doing a Balsamic-style cider vinegar...

Then, I had roasted parsnip soup at a winter fundraising lunch at the university that is truly local. Aramark's chef, Gary Hillier, had put together a fully winter menu, with a nice range of truly winter food items. The soup, though, was exceptional. And you could still taste the parsnip. After culinary espionage (I sent an email asking), I secured the recipe. It is deeply complex,and not for the faint of heart.
First, gather the stuff. Here is the local array, minus the parsnips, which had already been cubed and brushed with oil before Laureen remembered to get out the camera. The bread (made with my sourdough Archie, now 8 years old), the Dutchman's Dragon's Breath and Gouda are for the side dish.
The parsnips are pasty white at the start of roasting.They need a fair while (20 minutes at least) at 375 degrees Farenheit and a lot of turning, and want to get to be golden brown. They start to smell pretty fine.
Not local. The oil is from the Italian Market, selected after a lengthy tasting and education session with the owner. Local in a very curious and roundabout way; tasty enough that we use it to dress green salads without adding vinegar most of the time. The oil and pepper go in the soup, the wine and the antipasto do not.
(Laureen- It is still mostly the spices that give us the pip on this local food life style.)
Fry diced onions in oil until nice and fragrant, then the roasted parsnips go in the pot, add double the volume of water, boil for a while until the parsnips are soft. Meanwhile fry the bacon or pork belly that Laureen forgot to photograph before.
Don't worry about what goes on in the kitchen if you aren't cooking. If you are, walk through the other space every once in awhile and pretend this is very hard work. (Laureen- I didn't notice him walking through the room pretending he was having a tough time. I was busy with my own hard work)
Use a hand held blender to smoosh the parsnips, which should make a nice thick soup. Add a few grinds of pepper, maple syrup (local of course) to taste, maybe 1/8 to 1/4 cup, and a dash of tabasco. Thin with cream if it's too thick.
Eat. Taste the parsnips, and their brownish roasty goodness, with a nice hint of maple - not enough syrup to make the soup sweet, more just to open up the flavours. The bacon/pork belly we found to be not very important to the taste, and I'll leave it out the next time (or cook the pork belly in, rather than add as scrunchion topping).

The amazing things about this recipe: Pasty, whitish parsnips become rich golden brown, with the roasty crunch making a nice depth of taste in the final soup. Almost no ingredients - parsnips, oil, onion, maple syrup. Roast parsnips. boil in water, smoosh with blender - Julia Child would be frustrated by the lack of technique. Every stage smells yummy. And Laureen's favourite aspect (because our rule is, if you don't cook you wash the dishes) - if you skip the bacon, the soup requires just one pot, one baking sheet, and one handblender to wash.

The satisfying thing about cooking seasonally in the summer is that the tastes of fresh vegetables are so rich and popping, you don't need a lot of fussing with preparation and added ingredients. Too much fussing really just gets in the way, and reduces the flavour of the main ingredients. Winter recipes often have more combinations, more cooking time, less clarity of flavour. Of course you can't eat a parsnip the way you might chomp a baby carrot in September, but the roasting avoids the blanding-out of flavour that comes with stewing and other slow wet techniques.

I think the recipe would work fine with a butternut squash as well. Possibly with turnip, though I'd probably add some balsamic cider vinegar after roasting. All the sad, worthy looking vegetables at the market in January always call to my do-gooder instinct (Laureen - meaning he buys them despite my objections, but now we won't feed them to the worms.

Parsnips, Onions - Elmridge Farms (market)
Butter, Cream - Farmer's Dairy (everywhere)
Dragon's Breath Cheese, Medium Old gouda - Dutchman's Cheese (market, Pete's)
Sourdough - flour - Speerville Mills (Grainery Coop at market, organic sections most Halifax stores)
Sourdough starter - Steve (convince him you won't let Archie's offspring die and he might give you some)
Maple Syrup - several local church group fund raisers
Bacon or pork belly - Roselane Farm (market)

Parsnip Soup recipe:
4lbs parsnips peeled and rough chopped ( aprox 1 -2 inch in length)
1 lrg onion med dice
4-5 L water ( it should be aprox double the amount of water to parsnips in the pot
maple syrup ( to taste)
salt to taste
pepper to taste
canola oil (steve used olive oil)

Toss chopped parsnips in canola oil and a little salt and pepper to season. Just enough oil to lightly coat.
Place oiled parsnips on a cookie sheet and roast in a 375 degree oven until the parsnips are nicely colored deep golden. Stir to cook on all sides
Once parsnips are roasted, heat 2 tbsp oil in a large pot to saute the onion. Cook till translucent, add the parsnips and cover with the water. Simmer for aprox. 45 min to an hour, or you see the parsnips are starting to break apart.
Stir occasionaly
With a hand blender, blend mixture till smooth. taste for flavor and add S&P and maple syrup to desired flavor.
If the mixture is too thick add a little 35% cream
If too thin leave on the stove and reduce till thickened while continuing to taste.
Add a pich of cayenne for a bit of heat if that's your thing.

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