Purée of parsnip soup with pear and grated horseradish
Sometimes a child will eat a new food with such enthusiasm that it seems impossible they never showed an interest in it before. There may be a number of factors at play: an interesting new setting, the child's level of hunger when presented with the food, or the development of her palette. At least this was the case when my daughter Greta was 5, and we were having dinner at Oliveto Restaurant in Oakland, California.
She drained a bowl of parsnip and pear soup as fast as I imagined the cook had filled it up! Of course, this led me to try to duplicate the same balance of flavors in the hope that she'd empty the bowl of soup I made at home just as quickly. The soup, I discovered, will be consumed as long as its main ingredients--parsnips and pears--don't lend too much sweetness. I'd have thought that my addition of horseradish would put it into an adults-only category, but you just never know with kids! Mine loves it.
Parsnips are in season eight to ten months of the year. They store well, keep a consistent texture and flavor, and add natural sweetness to any recipe. Sometimes called "white carrots," parsnips have the added advantage of thickening the dish in which they're included without the starchiness that potatoes bring. And when pureed into a soup, their texture is silky and luxuriant.
Fresh horseradish is another good keeper. Store it in the refrigerator in the winter months, for grating over salads and soups. It adds pleasant small hits of spicy heat and a heady aroma that's guaranteed to stimulate the winter appetite and palette.
Makes 6 servings
1 medium-size leek, white part only, roughly chopped (reserve green top for stock)
1 small yellow onion, roughly chopped
1 small bulb fennel, roughly chopped
1 ripe Bosc, Concorde, Anjou or Comice pear, peeled, cored and chopped
1-tablespoon kosher salt
2 large parsnips, peeled, root end trimmed and coarsely chopped
5 cups Vegetable stock
Juice of one lemon
1/4 cup heavy cream or 1 tablespoon unsalted butter (optional)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1/2 pear, thinly sliced
1-inch piece fresh horseradish, or 1 teaspoon prepared horseradish
1 teaspoon coarsely chopped fresh thyme
Put the leek, onion, fennel and pear into a large saucepan with 1 cup of water and the salt. Bring the contents of the pan to a simmer over medium high heat. Reduce the heat to a medium simmer and cover, allowing the vegetables to soften. Simmer for approximately 20 minutes, stirring every few minutes.
After 20 minutes, remove the lid and add the vegetable stock and parsnips. Return the liquid to a simmer, cover the pan and cook another 20 minutes or until the parsnips are soft to the touch. Remove the pan from the heat and allow the contents to cool slightly before blending.
Blend the contents of the pan in batches, using a food processor or blender. When it is smooth, add the lemon juice and salt to taste. Strain the soup through a fine mesh sieve and cool, or return it to a saucepan to reheat before serving. The soup will keep in the refrigerator for 2 to 3 days.
To serve, heat the soup gently, adjust the seasoning and add the cream or butter if using. Ladle the soup into warm bowls and top each bowl with a few pear slices, horseradish grated on a microplane and a sprinkle of thyme. Drizzle with olive oil and serve immediately.