I think that parsnips are my favorite underappreciated vegetable. They look like mutant carrots. They're a little sweet, like carrots, but they have an interesting, sort of herbal flavor.
I was going to make something with parsnips for Thanksgiving, but at the last minute I changed my mind and ended up with a couple of pounds of parsnips that I had no idea how to use. A certain amount of googling gave me the idea of parsnip and pear soup, like this simple one or this curried one. I thought it would be more interesting to leave the pear raw, instead of cooking it with the parsnips. I mixed the chunks of pear with lime juice to keep them from turning brown, and to add some acidity to the soup (since everything else is slightly sweet). I pureed the soup, but reserved some of the roasted parsnips to give the soup more texture. And I added smoked paprika for a little more complexity.
My cooking experiments definitely don't always work out (e.g., I tried making braised rice cakes from How to Cook Everything Vegetarian, but overcooked it and got warm sesame-flavored glue), but this one did.
(I'm learning that it's challenging to take appetizing photos of soup.)
Two other notes on this recipe: 1) You can substitute an apple for the pear, which will give it more textural contrast. I liked it both ways. 2) The chipotle in this soup doesn't make it fiery, just noticeably spicy. Adjust the amount if it makes you happy.
Roasted parsnip soup with pear
makes about 4 bowls of soup
takes about an hour to cook
6 medium-sized parsnips (about 1.5 pounds)
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, chopped finely
4 cups water
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/4 teaspoon chipotle powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 ripe Bartlett pear
1. Preheat the oven to 400°F. While it's heating, wash the parsnips and carrots (and peel them if you like), then cut them into roughly equal-sized pieces. Halve and core the parsnips (you can skip this for the smaller ones). Cover a baking sheet with aluminum foil or parchment paper, spread out the parsnip and carrot pieces on the sheet, and drizzle them with a couple of tablespoons of olive oil and a little bit of salt. Mix them around with a spoon so that everything is coated with oil. Roast the vegetables for 30 minutes, or until they are tender enough to be pierced easily with a knife.
2. While the vegetables are roasting, heat a couple of tablespoons of olive oil over medium-low heat in a soup pot. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally. Add the garlic after a couple of minutes. The onions are ready when they are starting to turn brown, which will probably take about the same amount of time as it takes to roast the vegetables. If the onions finish first, turn down the heat until the parsnips and carrots are ready.
3. When the parsnips and carrots are done, add the smoked paprika, chipotle powder, and salt to the onions. Add the water, all of the carrots, and half of the parsnips to the pot. Raise the heat so that the water comes to a boil, then lower it to a simmer and cover the pot. Let it simmer for 10 minutes.
4. Use an immersion blender or a regular blender to puree the soup until it's smooth, adding more water if necessary. Taste the soup and adjust the seasonings if necessary. Chop the reserved parsnips into 1/2-inch chunks, add them to the soup, and simmer the soup again so that everything is warmed through.
5. To make the pear topping, cut the pear into small chunks and squeeze the lime over it. Serve the soup topped with the pear mixture.