11.29.2011

I’m talking about parsnip

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.

Serves 6.

31 comments:

Kasey said...

Your grandmother looks so beautiful! I love getting a peek into how my grandmother lived when she was young. Mine made the best crepes ever (I still use her recipe!) Soup sounds lovely, especially on this chilly, foggy day...

The Kitchen Muse said...

What a sweet post Jess! Your grandmother does indeed look very happy & beautiful. Her kitchen cabinets have the same hardware as my grandmother's did. I miss her and her kitchen terribly....

Molly said...

That glamour shot looks like a bowl of pistachio ice cream. Yum! For both the soup and the ice cream.

My mom puts parsnips in her chicken soup, too. Every so often there will be a Shabbos guest who actually asks to NOT have a piece of parsnip. So silly! My mom and my sisters and I smile at each other, excited to have more parsnips in our own bowls.

Holly said...

"And, uh, Grape Ade?" My question exactly! I love the way you write! Great post and beautiful grandmother!

linda said...

your grandmother was a true beauty with glowing skin!
brings back s.o.o.o many memories for me jess…my grandmother was a great cook & i loved her recipes... especially her chicken soup with tons of parsnip...

Jess said...

Hi, Kasey. Have you shared that crêpe recipe on TT? If so, I must have missed it. And if not, well, then I'd love to see it!

The Kitchen Muse - There's so much fun "of the era" stuff going on in that kitchen, right? The hardware, as you noted, the Grape Ade, of course, and look at the place mats! I miss my grandmother, too.

Molly - Ah yes, the parsnip haters. I don't understand them, but more for us, right?

Thanks so much, Holly!

Hi, Linda. Yes, her skin was beautiful and - despite working hard for the deepest, darkest tan around - it remained beautiful her entire life!

Maddie said...

Jess, I am in love with your black-and-white photos! They're crisp and clean, yet perfectly homey at the same time. And I'll have to try this soup sometime—ever since winter showed up, I've only eaten things that can be served warm in a bowl.

Rachel said...

Soup and memories are perfect together. Your grandmother is gorgeous and you descibe your memories beautifully.
I'm not sure I would have liked parsnips in my soup as a child but nowadays I love them!

Adrian J.S. Hale said...

I love that picture of your grandmother. Food is good, but people make it even better-- even if that food happens to be grape-ade. Thanks, as always, for sharing.

Rogue Unicorn said...

And now I miss my grandmother, who also puts parsnip in her chicken soup (as does my mother, and as do I). I kinda love parsnip. And yes, the brothy, salted and sweet smell of grandmothers. Exactly.
I probably can't really make this soup as is, since parsnips are inexplicably expensive right now, but I was thinking that it might be fun to see what would happen if I used some Jerusalem artichoke instead-yay, or nay?

A Plum By Any Other Name said...

Lovely photos. Lovely non-cream containing soup. Don't get me wrong. I love cream as much as the next gal. But we are getting into the holiday season. And the last thing I need at my waist is more cream. Let's be real. There should be christmas cookies there.

Elishag said...

A soup with 2 cups of parsley sounds perfect - I always have too many herbs left over! I think I'll give the soup a go this weekend.

The black and white photos from this post and last leaves me feeling incredibly nostalgic and very calm. Thanks Jess!

Rivki Locker (Ordinary Blogger) said...

Funny, I make chicken soup every week for Friday night dinner! :) And my soup features LOADS of parsnip. But I rarely use it in anything else. I love the looks of this recipe and intend to try it soon. Thank you for sharing.

Jen said...

That photo of your grandmother reminds me a bit of a photo of my own grandmother. In black and white, her skin looking soft and glowing--a way I had never known her. Kind of weird to think they lived a whole life before we ever existed--and even before our parents existed. Thanks for sharing.

Jess said...

Thanks, Maddie. Most of my meals involve a bowl and a spoon these days, too.

Rachel - I was one of those weird kids who delighted in eating unusual - or what I thought of as unusual - things. But I can totally see how the flavor of parsnips might be a lot for tiny taste buds. Some things, like parsnips, I guess, you just have to grow into.

I couldn't agree more, Adrian. It's the people and the stories that make food so much more than food.

Tiki, helloooo! I say, "yay." You might also try it with celeriac. xo.

A Plum By Any Other Name - Exactly. (And please pass the cookies.)

Hey, Elisha. Yep, this is a great clean-out-your-fridge soup. Thanks for your kind words about the photos.

Rivki - So glad you'll be trying this soup. I hope you'll like it. If you think of it, please do report back.

Jen - I know what you mean. I definitely think of my parents' lives before I was born as my own personal pre-history. Now that I have a kid, myself, I think sometimes about how my first three decades were her pre-history! It's wild.

momMe said...

Grandma's favorite room in the house was the kitchen, seconded by the formal dining room where she loved to create feasts on a long table overflowing with food and guests. She loved to experiment with new recipes and had a significant collection of cookbooks marked with comments throughout on whether a recipe was good and how she had tweaked it to make it even better. How she would have loved Sweet Amandine! thank you for the sweet memories.

Jess said...

Thank you for making them. xo.

hillary said...

This is a lovely post and reminds me of my childhood Friday night dinners as well. They were first at my great-grandmother's, and then at my grandmother's, and always involved soup. I unknowingly learned Yiddish through the soups - flanken with mushroom barley, lokshen and petrushka with the chicken. I thought these were just our special family words for thing; it was only later that I realized that other people used these funny words too. Ah, the revelations around childhood foods. These remind me as well of the moment I realized the tongue on the sloppy Joe's my family loved to eat was actually a TONGUE. It wasn't the same after that.

Sara said...

This looks so delicious, and coincidentally I just put 2 cups of parsley in a variation of another soup with parsnip! so green. and so fun to make new family memories.

molly said...

You know my front pockets well ;)

Clarice said...

I love these photos, and how each one tells a slightly different part of the story. I'm always looking for new ways to try parsnips at this time of year. Thanks!

Jess said...

Hi, Hillary. Thanks so much for sharing your memories of Friday night dinner with your family. I love the tongue story. Reminds me of the time my sister once asked my dad, "So, what are chicken nuggets (or maybe it was chicken legs or fingers...?) made of, anyway?"

Sara - Parsley! Who knew it could be so great in large quantities, right?

molly - Are they stuffed with your biscotti? (And if so, can I come hang out in your pockets?)

Thanks, Clarice. you're very kind. I like looking at these photos, too. That was a good night.

anya said...

Hi Jess, just wanted to let you know that tomorrow we are making this soup to be a new soup of the day at the Gebroeders Niemijer bakery, Amsterdam. :) Thank you for posting the recipe!

Jess said...

Anya! You just made my day. I'll let Elise know. (She originally posted the recipe on Simply Recipes.) Thanks so much.

Elise said...

Hi Jess, cool! Love the post and the photo of your gorgeous grandmother. So glad you liked the soup!

Jess said...

Thanks for your note, Elise, and most of all, for the soup!

Becca said...

Jessica,
I made this soup recently and it was delicious! Then we were invited out for Friday night dinner last week, and the host made it too! (both of us got it via your blog). I also 100% resonate with your story about first meeting parsnip via chicken soup. It was in my mom's chicken soup every Friday night of my childhood, and your description totally brought me back. I love reading your posts.
- Becca

Jess said...

Becca, hey! It's so fun to hear from you in this space, and to know that you're reading. Thanks for taking the time to leave a note. We'd love to connect the next time you're in town...

Becca Sendor-Israel said...

Jess, i'd love to see you guys when i'm in town - Davidi and I have been trying to plan a shabbat visit to Cambridge to see N&R, so i will definitely be in touch when that gets pinned down. I heard there was some confusion about which "Becca" had posted above (i'm somewhat of a commenting novice, but am slowly emerging from the lurking stage...), and I thought it was hilarious that you also figured out who the other parsnip-soup maker was! I come here often for food-related inspiration, and for your amazing way of putting feelings into words...

Jess said...

A visit - yes! About to e-mail you.

marble top dining table said...

I love that picture of your grandmother. Food is good, but people make it even better-- even if that food happens to be grape-ade. Thanks, as always, for sharing.