This past week was a snowy one! Almost no one in the US, it seems, has been spared the recent blizzard and the radical downturn in temperatures. As I look out, most of it has melted away here, and life is returning to its pre-snow normalcy. But, I couldn’t help but think of soup when we were socked in.
This parsnip and white bean soup has the flavors of provence with rosemary, thyme, leek, garlic and shallots.
My favorite cuisine is French. For a very long time, most of what I cooked was French food. This is because of a combination of happenstances. In my 20’s I took a cooking class on sauce making from a French chef. Learning the basics of what he called the five mother sauces, I was struck that from these five sauce I could make a myriad of dishes. It opened all sorts of doors to the potential of all the things I could cook.
Later, I discovered Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking and, like anyone who encounters this book, another portal to the world of cooking was opened.
Then, there was Peter Mayle with his A Year in Provence, and I could not be pried away from French food.
In the intervening years I have done so much cooking and experimented away from French into other cuisines and food possibilities. I sometimes think traditional French food is just not as popular as it once was, but every once in a while I feel the draw of a good Provençal stew or braised meat or roasted chicken or… soup.
I love the process of making soup, its mindful slowness. I love chopping the vegetables, slowly rendering all their flavor and then putting all the parts together and waiting for the results. It always feels homey and comforting to make soup. It’s the same with the slow process of making bread. The warmth a simmering pot of soup emits is perfect for proofing bread dough. This is probably why bread and soup go so well together.
This soup, so flavorful and hearty, is perfect for a cold day. The parsnips are cut into a small dice and pan roasted. You could roast them in the oven but I find the slower process of pan roasting, over a medium heat in some olive oil, so satisfying. The natural sugars release and the parsnips caramelize gradually, enriching the overall flavor. The smaller dice allows more surface area of the parsnips to take on the caramelization, too.
Once they begin to show signs of that dark rich sugary color, add in leeks and shallots that have been sliced. Stir this occasionally until the shallots and leek begin to soften.
Then add in some chopped garlic and whole sprigs of rosemary and thyme. A pinch of red pepper is thrown in for a bit of spice.
Now come the beans. Cannellini white beans are my favorite bean, found in such classic Provençal dishes as cassoulet. You can soak them overnight, if you wish, but I find that canned beans are just as good and far less trouble.
The final thing is to pour in some vegetable stock and a lot of salt and black pepper. The beans really absorb the salt so you need more than you would normally think to put into a soup. Also, you will use half your stock now and add an equal amount later.
Bring the pot to a boil, put a lid on, reduce the heat and simmer for 30 minutes.
After the soup has been simmering, it looks a bit more like stew than soup, but that is where the rest of your stock will come in, right after you puree. First, remove any herb stems you find. The herbs themselves will have fallen from the stems into the soup and that is exactly what you want.
You can use whatever tool you like to use to puree this soup- an immersion blender, a table top blender or a food processor. What ever you use, the key to this soup is to make sure you puree it very well. It should be very smooth. I use my food processor and puree it for a full minute.
Then, return the puree to the pot, add in the remaining stock and bring it back to a simmer. Adjust any seasoning, adding more salt if needed, and serve it up.
This soup is thick and richly flavored with the herbs and aromatics of garlic, shallot and leek. The parsnip comes through with a little sweetness and the beans give the soup a wonderful earthy edge.
Provençal Parsnip and White Bean Soup
- large soup pot
- food processor, blender or immerison blender
- 3 tbsp olive oil
- 6 parsnips chopped into small dice
- 2 leeks sliced
- 1 shallot sliced
- 2 cloves garlic minced
- 2 sprigs rosemary
- 2 sprigs thyme
- pinch red pepper flakes
- 1 15 oz can Cannellini Beans
- 4 cups vegetable stock
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
- Heat olive oil in a soup pot over medium heat.
- Add the diced parsnips and stir to coat in the oil. Let cook, stirring from time to time, until the edges begin to caramelize.
- Add in the leeks and shallots and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft.
- Add in the garlic, herbs and red pepper flakes. Stir to combine and cook for 1 minutes.
- Add in the beans, 2 cups of the stock, and the salt and pepper.
- Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium low and cover with a lid for 30 minutes.
- Remove lid. Soup will be thick like a stew at this point. Remove any herb stems.
- Puree, using your preferred tool. Return soup to pot if using a blender or food processor.
- Add the remaining stock, stir together and bring the soup back to a simmer.
- Adjust seasoning if needed and serve.