While we don't often think of winter as a season of fresh produce, there are some wonderful options that spring to life this time of year.
Root vegetables such as beets, carrots and sweet potatoes have a long storage period, are an excellent source of nutrients and minerals, and can be enjoyed throughout the season.
This week we're going to share our passion for an often-overlooked and, in our opinion, underrated root vegetable: the parsnip.
We think the parsnip has great diversity and is the tastiest root vegetable. You can serve a parsnip puree instead of mashed potatoes or roast some parsnips in the oven to jazz up a salad. But whatever you do, keep the preparation simple and allow its flavors to be fully appreciated.
Years ago, Tony and I hosted a pre-opera dinner party for eight of our friends. I was on the board of directors at the time, and I was hoping to cultivate more supporters for the Fargo-Moorhead Opera. We had never done anything like this before, and I wanted to dazzle our guests with our food and hospitality. Everything had to be perfect.
On the day of the event, Tony told me he had changed the soup for the evening to Cream of Parsnip. At the time, I wasn't very familiar with parsnips. To say that I was skeptical about this change is an understatement. In fact, we actually argued about it. I wanted the menu to reflect foods of luxury - the main course was a duo of beef tenderloin and sea bass, after all - and in my mind, lobster bisque was the only option. The paltry parsnip was simply not up to the task.
But Tony was adamant, and I was surprised by his zealous defense of the parsnip.
"Trust me," he said. "Everyone expects lobster bisque at a dinner like this. We need to keep it simple and focus on what's in season. Let the food surprise our guests, and we will exceed their expectations."
I relented but remained a skeptic. Our guests arrived, and we cruised through the first course. The soup was up next, and I held my breath as we served the Cream of Parsnip. Several of our guests commented that they had never tried parsnips in a soup before. I sat and waited for their reaction as they tasted the soup. At first, no one said anything - they were too busy eating. So I took a spoonful myself and was immediately converted.
The parsnip soup was heavenly. Warm and comforting, the parsnip embraced me with its subtle sweetness and nutty flavor. There were tones of butterscotch and a hint of spice, too. And, with its pretty ivory color and velvety smooth texture, the soup was naturally elegant.
True to Tony's word, our guests were positively gushing with praise, almost giddy in the excitement of this new discovery. The Cream of Parsnip Soup was the hit of the evening, and several of our guests continue to support the Fargo Moorhead Opera to this day.
After 19 years of marriage, I have learned to admit when I'm wrong about something. Tony was right about the parsnip, and I'm happy to eat crow on this one. As long as it's served with parsnip soup.
Cream of Parsnip Soup
1 ounce butter
½ cup sliced yellow onion
2 garlic cloves
4 parsnips, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces
1 quart chicken stock, (vegetable stock may be substituted)
½ cup brown sugar
½ cup heavy cream
Salt and pepper to taste
Using a medium-sized stock pot, sauté the onions and garlic in the butter for five minutes. Add the parsnips and chicken stock, and simmer for one hour over low heat. Add the sugar and heavy cream and puree the mixture with a hand-held blender. The texture should be velvety smooth, so pass the soup through a fine-mesh strainer if necessary. Season with salt and pepper and serve.
This soup has a beautiful ivory color, so be creative when choosing a garnish. Pick up some colorful micro greens at Prairie Petals in downtown Fargo, use sautéed carrots and apples, or sprinkle chives on just before serving.
Pour into an airtight container and refrigerate for up to one week or freeze for up to two months.
Home with the Lost Italian is a weekly column written by Sarah Nasello featuring recipes by her husband, Tony Nasello. The couple owns Sarello's restaurant in Moorhead and lives in Fargo with their 8-year-old son, Giovanni. Readers can reach them at email@example.com or http://thelostitalian.areavoices.com. This article is written exclusively for The Forum.