Because I promised to do it sooner rather than later, and because Canadian Thanksgiving is right around the corner (thus sending most of us in the Frozen Northlands into a frenzy of menu planning), here is the recipe for the apple and parsnip soup from my Granville Market Harvest Dinner.
Even before I arrived in Vancouver, I knew I wanted to serve an apple-based soup as my first course, since BC’s Okanagan Valley is quite well-known for its orchards and produces a huge variety of apples. So, when I started flipping through my stack of cooking magazines on the plane (as is my habit whenever I travel) and found that two of them had featured an apple and parsnip soup, I knew it was a sign from above… this is the soup I had to make. Well, either that, or maybe it’s a sign that I’m not the only one with apples on the brain this time of year. :)
This is a great soup for entertaining, because it actually benefits from being left to its own devices for a little while before serving. Not to say it’s not great if eaten right away, but something magical happens if you let it sit for a couple of hours while you desperately run around the kitchen dealing the rest of your Thanksgiving preparations. When you return, you’ll find that the soup has mellowed out to a velvety soft, slightly sweet puree with a perfectly blended harmony of apple and parsnip, and just a hint of spice.
That hint of spice comes from a blend called ras-el-hanout (roughly translated: “top of the market”), which hails from Morocco. Like curry, there are nearly as many recipes for this blend as there are spice merchants in the souk, but it’s essential trait is a combination of spicy, sweet and savoury seasonings, which is often based on a combination of cumin, coriander, chiles, cinnamon, ginger and/or cardamom in varying proportions, though some of the more complex recipes can have dozens of components. I purchased a pre-made blend from a bulk shop in the market, but if you’re the DIY type, you can easily make a basic version using this recipe from Epicurious.
To dress up the soup for my dinner party, I decided to spoon in a little swirl of creme fraiche just before serving to smooth out the flavours, along with a crostini made of thinly sliced multigrain baguette, which I’d put under the broiler for a couple of minutes with some crumbled blue cheese.
However, there are plenty of alternatives, depending on your mood and on the occasion… Replace the blue with brie or jarslberg if you prefer mellower cheeses, add a handful of finely diced apple bits for texture, or (if your crowd isn’t pork-averse) opt for a scattering of crisp-fried pancetta shreds. See how flexible this soup can be? Sheer perfection, I tell you.
1 medium-sized leek, white part only, thinly sliced
1 lb parsnips, peeled and roughly chopped
2 tbsp butter
1 lb tart apples, peeled and roughly chopped
2 tbsp ras-el-hanout
1 tbsp grated fresh ginger
4 cups chicken or vegetable broth
1 cup apple cider or water
Salt and pepper to taste
Creme fraiche (for garnish)
Crostini with melted blue cheese (for garnish)
In a large, heavy-bottomed pot set over medium-high heat, sweat the leek and parsnips in butter until leek is very soft and parsnip starts to take on a little colour, about 10-15 minutes. Add apples, ras-el-hanout and ginger, and continue cooking until fragrant, about 3 minutes. Stir in broth and cider (or water). Bring mixture to a boil, then reduce heat to low and let simmer until vegetables are tender, about 25-30 minutes.
Using an immersion blender, process the mixture until you have a smooth puree. If the mixture is too thick, more water or broth can be added to reach the desired consistency. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper to taste. Let stand until ready to serve.
To serve, bring the soup back up to serving temperature, and ladle into bowls. Garnish each bowl with a swirl of creme fraiche and a crostini (or any other desired topping).