Parsnip Soup with White Truffles

My beloved parsnip, with its semisweet flavor that seems to confuse most palates, is not loved by all. The ancient Romans liked them a lot, and then no one else, until the English. The Romans would have served this soup with a huge hunk of foie gras (from geese fed on figs) in the center.

Parsnips are great peeled and roasted with cumin and lots of black pepper as an accompaniment to any kind of fresh pork. Covered with lime juice and chilies and then baked, they are perfect with roast pig, or any of the tropical “oily” fish.

And they make a great soup, especially a cold one. Peel the parsnips very lightly, since the flesh between the skin and the center “root” is the part that we want to use. Make sure the parsnips are quite fresh, not huge, old, and woody.

Ingredients

  • 8 medium parsnips
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 large white onion, peeled, coarsely chopped
  • 1 medium potato, peeled, chopped into ½-inch cubes
  • 1 sprig fresh tarragon
  • 2 sprigs fresh parsley
  • 3 cups water(let tap water stand 2 hours before using to release the chlorine) or vegetable stock
  • ½ ounce fresh white truffle
  • Saltand freshly ground white pepper

Method

Peel the parsnip, cut off the top and the thin root ends and discard. Using the peeler, cut away and save all the rest of the parsnip except for the core. Put the saved parsnip in a heavy pot that will hold it in one layer. Add the butter, onions, and potato. Add ½ cup water, a teaspoon of salt, cover, and sweat over medium-low heat for 10 minutes. Add the tarragon and parsley and sweat another 5 minutes, then add the remaining water and simmer until the vegetables are tender, another 5 minutes or so.

Drain and save the liquid. Puree the mixture with some of the liquid, and add the remaining liquid to the puree.

Heat, test for salt, and serve in warmed shallow soup plates. Shave the white truffles over the top of the soup at the table, and then grind white pepper over the truffles.

Variations

Since the fresh truffles will cost about 15 dollars per person, this soup can be served with white truffle, herb, or mushroom oil on top instead. In the restaurants, we finished the soup to order with whipped cream, and then added a large shitake mushroom pot sticker (wonton-wrapper dumplings of shitakes, fresh ginger, garlic, and preserved lemon); the dumpling was then covered with chopped Italian parsley and flowers.

The soup can also be served chilled without the truffles and with the same oils, but if it’s cold do not use any butter, though perhaps some cream. Another variation is to use fresh cardoons instead of parsnips (they taste quite a bit like artichokes).

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