Serve this soup as a starter before a spring supper or with plenty of crusty bread at lunch. The sweetness of the parsnips and the anise-y fragrance of the tarragon make it a good accompaniment to a brightly dressed salad or a pile of steamed veggies with lemon.
6 fat spring-dug parsnips, peeled
3 shallots, 2 diced and 1 thinly sliced into rings
½ cup grapeseed or safflower oil
1 head fennel, chopped, fronds reserved for garnish
4 ribs celery, chopped
1 clove garlic, peeled and crushed
1 bay leaf
1 big branch thyme, whole
1 branch tarragon
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 cups rich homemade chicken or vegetable broth
¼ cup half and half
Using a mandoline or very sharp knife, make ¼ cup (packed) parsnip coins from one of the peeled parsnips; set aside. Cut the remaining parsnips into quarters lengthwise and remove the center core; dice and set aside.
Place the oil in a small heavy-bottomed saucepan and add the shallot rings. Turn on the heat and allow the rings to simmer in the oil, watching carefully so they don’t scorch, and fry until light golden brown. Use a slotted spoon to remove the rings to a paper-towel-lined plate; season liberally with salt and pepper. Add the parsnip coins to the oil and repeat, cooking until light golden brown and curled. Remove to the paper towel and season with salt and pepper. Set aside until ready to serve the soup.
In a large saucepan heat ¼ cup of the same oil you cooked the shallot and parsnip coins in and add the diced shallot, diced parsnip, chopped fennel and celery and the garlic cloves. Season with salt and pepper and stir to coat; sizzle in the oil until the vegetables are lightly browned, 5–7 minutes. Add the bay leaf, thyme and tarragon and sauté another 2–3 minutes. Add the broth, bring to a simmer and cook, stirring occasionally, until the parsnips are tender when pierced with the tip of a knife, about 10–15 minutes.
Taste the soup for seasoning and add more salt if needed. Blend the soup directly in the pot with an immersion blender or in batches in a standard blender (return the blended soup to the pot when smooth). Stir in the half and half and serve topped with freshly ground pepper, some crispy parsnip chips, fried shallots and fennel fronds.
(For a vegan version, use vegetable broth and omit the half and half!)
Sarah Blackburn is a home cook, recipe developer, soccer mom, Italophile and managing editor at Edible Boston. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.