Elizabeth has the flu. What a bummer, two days before Christmas and on the day we were all planning to see The Nutcracker in the amazing production by the Arizona Ballet. (Sue and I enjoyed it so much that we wanted to back, and we wanted the girls to see it. Miriam will get to go, at least.)
I still have a bucket-load of stock from the other day. I know this looks like a non sequitur, but it isn't. Somebody with the flu + bucket-loads of stock = soup. It's inevitable. And I have just the thing.
OK, here's the story behind this soup. I first had it in January 2000 while on a trip to England with students from Salem College. My wonderful colleague, Joan Jacobowsky, was the other chaperone, and our good friends Clem and Margaret Sandresky were along as well. Clem had been the dean of the Salem College School of Music for many years and had retired only a few years before I held the post. Margaret had taught theory at Salem for a long time, and her father had been dean of the music school before Clem. Joan was celebrating fifty years of voice teaching at Salem. These are special people with a remarkable commitment to Salem, to say nothing of their vitality and longevity. Margaret and Joan are still living. I won't divulge their ages. Clem died in June of 2009, a loss his friends still feel.
But I digress. We were all in England in January. It was cold and damp, because that's how England is most of the year, but especially in January. We were visiting Winchester Cathedral (if you're of a certain age, you will now be singing a song...). No place is colder and damper in England in January than a medieval cathedral. And to top it all off, it was raining, hardly unusual in England in January. After the tour of the church, we were soaked and chilled to the bone. Salvation came in the form of a little canteen run by church volunteers. It stands just outside where you end the tour.
We went in, and Parsnip and Apple Soup was on offer. I had never had it, but I figured it was worth a try. I can't remember ever having anything before or since that was so warming and so comforting. Joan had the presence of mind to ask one of the ladies how it was made. She was given this list, but no instructions:
1 lb. parsnips
4 oz. potato
1 Granny Smith apple
2-1/2 cups of chicken broth (If you're vegetarian, use a good-tasting vegetable stock. Remember that the flavor of the stock is crucial to the flavor of the soup, so get a good one.)
That's it. Well, that's not much to go on. And the proportions don't seem right--it doesn't sound like there's enough liquid. (I suspect there may have been a little confusion converting between grams and cups.) I started out using the amount called for, but I ended up adding quite a bit at the end. The proportions given below are more accurate, I think.
So here's what I did.
First, I doubled everything and ended up quadrupling the liquid.
Here's the rest, given as a conventional recipe:
Chop one large onion and saute it gently in about 4 tablespoons of butter in the bottom of a heavy soup pot. (I used my cast aluminum Dutch oven this time). When the onions are translucent and just beginning to brown, add about 2 quarts of stock to the pot. Peel and cut the potato (I used 1 large Russet weighing about 1/2 pound) into 1-inch dice and add it to the pot. Peel the parsnip (I used a pound), chop it into small chunks, and add that to the pot. Let it all simmer until the vegetables are really, really soft, even falling apart (maybe an hour--don't worry, you can't overcook it).
(By the way, I'm not always a fan of peeling vegetables; I was taught that a lot of the nutrition gets scraped away with the skin. You can leave the peels on, but just know that it will affect the look of the soup: there will be flecks of peel in it. If that doesn't bother you, skip peeling. If you want a consistently smooth, uniform-looking soup, peel.)
When the vegetables are cooked, peel, core, and chop the apple (I used 2 good-size ones), and add it to the soup. Cook for another 5 - 10 minutes, until the apple is tender. Put everything through a blender, adding more stock if needed to make the soup a pleasantly thick consistency.
Serve it piping hot with some crusty bread on the side.
It was delicious--hearty and warming, just plain food. If you wanted to dress it up a little, you could put a dollop of yogurt or sour cream on each bowl and maybe a sprig of mint. But it's probably not necessary and possibly pretentious.
Next time you need some comfort in a bowl, you might want to try this soup. I hope it made Elizabeth feel a little better--at least she felt a little warmth.
Stay hardy, and enjoy simple things.