Parsnip and Sherry Soup with Hazelnut Pesto

Strangely, the pleasure of crisp, sweet roast parsnips is little known among the gastronomically inclined French, who consider the parsnip to be animal feed – their loss, of course. Parsnips were one of the few foodstuffs exported from Britain during Roman times. The emperor Tiberius evidently liked them but sadly only in the belief that they were some form of aphrodisiac. Presumably it was the shape and sturdiness rather than the flavour or nutritional qualities that appealed to him. No matter, they taste wonderful. Parsnip soup works well with a little dry sherry. The addition of hazelnut pesto, which I came across in an American food magazine some years ago, gives both contrast and lift to the dish.

Ingredients

For the Soup

  • 100g ( oz/7 tablespoons) unsalted butter
  • 500g (1 lb 2 oz) parsnips, peeled and chopped
  • 4 shallots, chopped
  • 3 small leeks, white and pale green parts only, chopped
  • 4 tablespoons dry sherry
  • 2 tablespoons double (heavy) cream
  • salt and pepper

For the Pesto

  • 75g (3 oz/heaped ½ cup) toasted hazelnuts
  • a small bunch of flat-leaf parsley
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon hazelnut oil

Method

Blend all the pesto ingredients together using a food processor, blender or pestle and mortar. Refrigerate until needed.

To make the soup, heat the butter in a heavy pot and cook the parsnips, shallots and leeks until brown.

Add the sherry and boil until it has evaporated. Stir in 750ml (1 pint 6fl oz/3¼ cup) of water and bring the soup to the boil. Cover and simmer for 20 minutes, by which time the vegetables should be quite soft.

Purée the soup in batches using a food processor or blender, then return it to the pot and reheat adding the cream. Taste to test the seasoning and add salt and pepper as needed.

Serve with a spoonful of the hazelnut pesto in each bowl.