Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Harvest Meal: Cream of Roasted Parsnip Soup, Plus Scallion Biscuits

I've sort of been on a cream-of kick. Soup has been much desired lately, and I've been wanting to highlight the root vegetables that are still available in the winter garden. Cream-of soups do the trick and are so easy to prepare. We were taught in culinary school how to make cream-of soup out of just about anything. This time around, a predicted blizzard sent us out digging for parsnips. I had in mind a roasted parsnip soup. We dug up a little under two pounds of them as we waited for the storm to begin in earnest. Despite the lower than freezing air temperature, the ground is not yet frozen below the surface. Digging the parsnips was pretty easy.

After being cleaned the parsnips were roasted using a method I usually use for potatoes. I greased a large casserole dish lightly with butter, cut up the parsnips and laid them in the dish, ground some white pepper over them, sprinkled with kosher salt and then drizzled them lightly with olive oil. I tossed everything together with my hands to coat the parsnips evenly, then arranged everything evenly again in the casserole. To this I added about 1 1/2 tablespoons of water and then tightly covered the dish with a sheet of aluminum foil. Into a 400 F (205 C) oven for 35 minutes, and then the foil was removed. I put the dish back in the oven uncovered, and raised the temperature to 425 F (220 C) to let the roots brown up a bit. This took about 15 minutes. (Note that most of the caramelization (browning) takes place on the side of the parsnip in contact with the casserole. If you wait until the tops are browned, they'll probably be burned underneath.) Meanwhile, I was also baking two medium potatoes in the same oven.

I waited until the vegetables were done before proceeding, but if you're in a hurry you can start on the next step as soon as the root vegetables are in the oven. I medium diced two medium onions (boughten) and sauteed them in butter with a pinch of salt until they became somewhat translucent, soft but not browned. Then I put the nicely browned parsnips, and roughly chopped baked potatoes (ours) into the pot and added enough chicken stock (ours) to cover everything and make the parsnips float freely (about 2 quarts). I also added a couple of cloves from a head of roasted garlic (ours) we happened to have around and two bay leaves (boughten). All this was brought to a gentle simmer and then the heat under the pan was reduced. I let it all simmer together gently for about 15 minutes.

The next step is the one that's a pain. I fished out the bay leaves, then strained out the liquid from the solid ingredients, but reserved the liquid. Working in batches, I pureed the solids with a little of the liquid added back in to help everything blend up nicely. The puree and extra reserved liquid was returned to the pot. (I tried the pureeing step first with an immersion/wand blender. It didn't work.) Then I added about 3/4 cup of whole milk (local) and tasted to adjust for salt and seasonings. I brought the pot back to a very gentle simmer and let it go for 5 more minutes. Each serving was garnished with a brilliantly colored slice of parsley butter (our parsley, boughten butter).

It's a simple soup that tastes richly of sweet parsnips. Not something that will necessarily wow guests, but pretty satisfying as a winter harvest meal, and very warming on a chilly night. If I were feeling more adventurous, I might try adding a slice of fresh ginger during the initial simmer (probably best not pureed) or some freshly grated nutmeg.

Moving on to the non-harvest part of our snowstorm feast, I also made scallion biscuits. Ceridwen asked for a recipe, so I'll go ahead and list one. But first, an absolutely necessary little digression into etymology. Blame Ceridwen, or skip ahead a bit if this stuff bores you.

"Biscuit" literally means twice-cooked. The German word Zwieback, and the Italian word biscotti are cognates for the English word biscuit. But the Germans and the Italians actually mean what they say when they use their terms. Both Zwieback and biscotti are hard little farinaceous things baked once, and then sliced and baked again. The English word "biscuit" is an excellent example of the two nations divided by a common language. The Brits, when they use the term, mean what Americans call a cookie. Yet neither American cookies nor English biscuits are generally baked twice. When Americans say "biscuit" they mean something in the general ballpark of what the Brits call scones, and American biscuits are not twice-baked either. Americans eat their biscuits in a savory rather than a sweet capacity. In the US, biscuits are vehicles for ham, eggs, cheese, or gravy, usually showing up at either breakfast or dinner, where they are associated with heavy meals. Though Brits don't put sugar in their scones, they often slather them with jam and cream; and dried fruit might be included in the dough. Usually in the UK scones are associated with tea, rather than a full meal. (Please correct me if I'm wrong in this, British readers.) Americans on the other hand will bake scones with sugar in them or on top of them, but don't add jam to them after baking as commonly as the Brits. So to conclude, an American biscuit is pretty close to a British scone when it comes out of the oven, but not in the way it's eaten; a British biscuit is nothing like an American one; and a British scone may not bear much resemblance to an American scone. -There! I've had my foodie-word-geek catharsis for the day! Here endeth the lesson.

Oh, and Ceridwen, I too was thinking of adding cheese to my scallion (green onion) biscuits (scones). I just hadn't decided which cheese to add.

Scallion-Cheddar Buttermilk Biscuits

2 cups all purpose flour
2 tsp. baking powder
3/4 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 cup thinly sliced fresh scallions (green onions)
5 Tbsp. cold butter, cut into small pieces
3/4 cup grated sharp cheddar cheese*
3/4 cup well shaken buttermilk**, plus extra for brushing

Preheat oven to 450 F (230 C) and grease a baking sheet or line it with baker's parchment. Sift/stir together dry ingredients. Using your fingertips, blend in butter very quickly until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Stop before you think you should, and try not to warm up the butter any more than really necessary. Stir in the scallions and grated cheddar. Add buttermilk and stir just until dough forms. Gather into a ball and knead on floured surface, gently, just 6 times. Pat dough into a square or rectangle. Cut into 9 (sorta) equal pieces (the corner pieces will probably be irregular - don't sweat it) and arrange them on your baking sheet. Brush the tops of the biscuits with a little extra buttermilk. Bake for about 12-15 minutes, or until golden brown on top.

*Plenty of other cheeses will work here too. If you don't have cheddar, try whatever you've got. But firm, somewhat assertively flavored cheeses tend to do best.
**If you have no buttermilk on hand, put 1 tablespoon of distilled white vinegar or lemon juice in a 1 cup measure. Fill the measure the rest of the way with whole milk, stir gently, and let the mixture sit for ten minutes before proceeding with the recipe. This makes just a bit more than is needed for this recipe.

By the way, this recipe doubles well, which I strongly recommend doing if you've got a house full of biscuit eaters. They'll keep a few days at room temperature in a sealed bag, and you can freeze some if you need to. Fresh sage (in smaller quantities) makes an excellent substitute for the scallions. All in all, it's a pretty flexible recipe. Enjoy!


Attila said...

Ah well, in Britain, we do add sugar to the scones dough, but not a huge amount; I'd use 3oz of sugar and 3oz butter to 1lb of flour. Or cheese scones would be minus the sugar and with about 3 or 4 oz grated cheese. You are so right about two nations divided by a common language!
I like the idea of roasting parsnips for soup. When I make pasnip soup, I like to add curry powder.

Kate said...

Attila, curried parsnip soup sounds pretty delicious. Thanks for the clarification on British scones.

Anonymous said...

It's called "Zwieback" and not "zweiback"


Kate said...

Thanks for the correction, anon. I have edited.