When I was a little girl, “Friday night dinner” was a thing, an event that began each week in the lobby of my grandparents’ apartment building. I got to find the buzzer on the board, number 815, and press it with my finger. Then, there was an elevator ride up, and my grandfather standing in the doorway of the last apartment on the left. My sister and I would charge down the long hallway. I haven’t thought about that for a long time, and it surprises me how clearly I remember the sound of our footfall on the carpet. “When I was a little girl” means something different to me now that Mia’s here.
My grandmother’s name was Marion. The last time I was home in Cleveland, I found a photo of her that was taken in the house where my mother grew up.
I never saw her kitchen like that, so cluttered with dishes, and pots, and appliances (and, uh, Grape Ade?), but I wish I had. She looks happy.
My grandmother was beautiful and liked to make herself more beautiful. Most days, she smelled faintly of hairspray and makeup, but on Friday nights, when I loved her most, she smelled like soup, brothy, salted, and sweet. I’m not sure if she would have appreciated my saying a thing like that. If she were here, I hope she would know what I mean. For those Friday night meals, my grandmother would sometimes make pea soup, and sometimes mushroom barley, but her fallback position was chicken soup. She made it almost every week.
I’m not going to tell you about my grandmother’s chicken soup today, though someday, I’d like to. Instead, I want to tell you about just one special component of it. At least I thought it was, when I was a kid. Special, and also a little bit weird. I’m talking about parsnip. By now, I’ve eaten parsnip every which way – roasted and braised, steamed and stewed – but back then, the only parsnip I’d ever met was the parsnip that turned up each week in that soup. It looked like carrot floating there in the pot, only white, and that felt exotic, to me. It tasted exotic, too, richer and greener and more fragrant than the other root vegetables I knew. I always asked for extra parsnip in my bowl.
The soup I have for us today features parsnip, along with more fresh parsley than I’ve ever seen in a single recipe. I’m used to measuring parsley by the tablespoon, or by the handful, at most. So if you’re like me, the sight of two cups of chopped parsley on your cutting board will mildly terrify you. You may even decide that, the first time around, you’ll add just a cup, and see how it goes, because two cups, two cups – that can’t be right. Like me, you’d be wrong. I’m not sure how it works, but in there with the parsnips and leeks (Oh, did I mention? There are also leeks.), two cups of parsley is perfect. All of that parsley has an added benefit, too: it turns the soup the loveliest shade of green. You’ll have to trust me on this one, since I’ve gone black and white on you, today. Or, you can click over to Elise’s site, where I found the recipe. She’s posted a gorgeous green glamour shot right here.
I made this soup twice the week before Thanksgiving to use up the last of the parsnips and leeks from this year’s farm share, and I’ll be making it again, soon. It takes only a few minutes to get everything into the pot, and just another few later on to purée it. It’s 100% vegetables, which means it's quite light, but rich enough that a friend of mine asked if it had any cream in it. All of which makes it a nice soup to have in your back pocket this time of year. You know, when your front pockets are full of cookies.
Parsnip Soup with Leeks and Parsley
Adapted from Simply Recipes
I mentioned the pretty green color of this soup, so I should warn you that it holds onto its green for only so long. It will still taste perfectly delicious on the second or third day after you make it, but it will lose some of its vibrance. Also, a word about parsnip prep: If the cores are hard and fibrous, remove them before chopping the rest of the parsnip. If the cores seem okay to you, you can leave them in.
2 Tbsp. butter
3 leeks, white and pale green parts only, sliced lengthwise, and then crosswise into ¼-inch slices
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1½-2 pounds parsnips, peeled and chopped
4 strips lemon peel, 1” x 2” each
1-2 tsp. salt
4 c. vegetable stock
2 c. water
2 c. finely chopped fresh Italian (flat leaf) parsley (plus a little more, if you want some for garnish)
1-2 Tbsp. lemon juice
Black pepper, to taste
Heat the butter in a 4 to 6 quart pot over a medium flame. When the butter foams, add the leeks, and toss to coat them with the butter. Once the leeks are sizzling, lower the heat and cover the pan. Cook until soft. Don’t let the leeks brown.
Add the parsnips and olive oil, and toss to coat. Sprinkle with salt, then add the stock, the water, and lemon peel. Bring to a boil, uncovered, then lower the heat, cover the pot, and cook at a low simmer until the parsnips are completely tender. It should take about 30 minutes.
Remove and discard the lemon peels. Add the parsley, and purée the soup until smooth with an immersion or stand blender. If using a stand blender, be careful! When blending hot liquids, never fill the blender more than halfway. I like to hold the cover of the blender closed with a dish towel, just to be safe.
Return the puréed soup to the pot, and stir in the lemon juice. Taste, and add more salt or black pepper, if needed. Garnish with the rest of the chopped parsley, a little olive oil, and freshly ground black pepper. Elise also suggests chopped chives. That sounds good, to me.