UPDATE: 2016. My son Max is currently a Sous Chef at The French Laundry, Napa, CA. I’m a proud mama!
When I told my son that a journalist from NJ Monthly Magazine wanted to do an article on me, with angle of “son inspires mom to go to culinary school,” he thought it was a great idea! As long as he didn’t have to be there, say anything or have his picture taken. If you are a mother, or have ever had one, you know that we are accustomed to moving forward with what what we need to get done, amid protestations of our young. In other words, I ignored his shy, man-of-few-words nature and begged him to be there anyway. “We’ll cook him lunch while he snaps some pics. I promise you won’t have to say that much.” And he didn’t have to. Because the soup Max made while I chatted up the reporter, (and prepped for the Vinegar Braised Greens with Runny Egg we served after the soup), spoke volumes about the skill, passion and finesse he brings to his work.
Now, a white soup is not going to “pop” in a picture, no matter how aromatic and velvety it is, but don’t let that distract you. The flavor of the sweated, sweet shallots, earthy celery root and nutty turnips, simmered with fresh rosemary and homemade chicken stock will make you HAPPY, I SAY HAPPY, that it is winter and time for soup. And this soup is the quintessence of winter, all roots and pears and rosemary. You know I love the combination of pears and rosemary from a certain jaw-dropping upside down cake I’ve posted and made with students in dozens of cooking-party classes, and the marriage works brilliantly here too. A finishing touch of cream could almost be eliminated (for those who would rather skip the dairy or fat) because the creamy, buttery texture of the blended vegetables has a luxurious, rich mouthfeel. Lower fat options are half and half or plain whole milk, but please don’t do soy or almond milk or something that is going to make this wonderfully balanced soup sweeter. The pear takes care of the sweetness quite nicely, without being overly so.
I had two great gadgets to play with for this recipe, that I am excited about giving away! One is this extra-wide ceramic MEGA peeler you see posing in the background. It’s from Kyocera. I immediately love it for being red, of course, but it has other great qualities. It is extra wide so you can employ it for peeling more challenging produce like these gnarly celery roots, or try it with mango, papaya, jicama, and cabbage. (Works perfectly fine on the slim parsnips too.) The ceramic blade is super sharp and will never rust on you. If you want to get those beautiful wide curls of chocolate shavings like those on deserts you see in restaurants, or equally bold strips of hard-aged cheeses (or you want to shave chocolate directly into your mouth on any given day around 4 pm when you start feel a bit draggy), this peeler should be the tool of choice. Leave a comment, and tell me what “a-peels” to you about having this new peeler in your drawer and two of you will be chosen at random to receive one.
Next, I had this shiny “stick blender,” as we called them in culinary school, but Cuisinart would probably prefer if we took a deep breath and called it the Smart Stick Power Trio High Torque Hand Blender. It comes with a 4-cup mini food processor attachment, that slices, chops, and dices, and a whisk attachment too, so it’s not one of those dreaded “one-trick” gadgets that I advise people to avoid accumulating. (This rule does not apply to the corkscrew.)
When my son made this glorious soup the day of the interview, I didn’t have this magic wand at my disposal, so as you can see in the picture above, he used my workhorse of a Vita-Mix, which I love (and know it will outlive me it’s so strong and durable!) But, not everyone is going to want or need a $600+ blender in their kitchen, and some days you just don’t want the extra steps or cleanup of using a conventional blender. This powerful (400 watts) tool made short work of blending the soup to a creamy puree, when I made it again for this post, and I was able to do the blending right in the pot. To enter the giveaway for one of these stainless steel beauties, leave a comment below, and tell me the first blended drink you remember having.
Don’t skip the Vanilla Almond Oil part of this recipe (make a day or at least a few hours ahead), it really finishes the soup visually, and adds wonderful nutty, vanilla notes to this wintery melange. Save any leftover oil to drizzle over oatmeal, yogurt, seared scallops, or roasted potatoes. The last thing I’ll say is if you’ve never tried celery root, you really should. I hadn’t, until I went to culinary school four years ago, and now I happily puree, mash, roast, caramelize and eat them all winter long. Parnsips too are a neglected root, relegated to chicken soup making and other peripheral tasks, and should rightfully capture some of the limelight that it’s more colorful cousin, the carrot, always gets.
Note: Giveaway winners are chosen by random by a computer widget, to keep things fair and save me the angst from having to choose among you. Keep commenting!
Photo of Max Robbins, Rachel Willen by Eric Levin, NJ Monthly Magazine
- prep time: 10 minutes day ahead; 30 minutes day of
- cook time: 1 hour
- yield: 3 quarts, serves 8-10
Parsnip, Pear and Celery Root Soup with Almond-Vanilla Oil
adapted from Daniel Humm, via New York Magazine
For the Parsnip Pear and Celery Root Soup
1/2 cup almond oil
1/4 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
Parsnip Pear and Celery Root Soup
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 cup shallots, diced to 1/4 inch (about 3)
4 cups parnsnips, diced to 1/4 inch (about 4)
1 1/2 cups celery root , diced to 1/4 inch (1 small-medium)
6 sprigs fresh rosemary
2 cups pear, peeled, cored and diced to 1/4 inch
2 cups dry white wine
9 cups homemade or low-sodium chicken stock
1/2 cup heavy cream (half and half or milk for lower fat option)
1-2 tablespoons pear vinegar (or white balsamic as a substitute)
For Almond-Vanilla Oil (make 4-24 hours ahead)
Place the oil and vanilla bean in a small saucepan over medium heat, and bring to a temperature of 190 degrees. If you don’t have an oil thermometer than just heat it to the point where the oil just warmed and a few tiny bubbles are floating to the top. Remove from heat and allow to cool to room temperature. Cover and set aside to infuse at room temperature for 4-24 hours (the longer the better), or transfer to a glass jar with an airtight lid. Leftover oil may be stored in the refrigerator and used for up to two months.
For Parsnip, Pear and Celery Root Soup
In a medium stockpot, melt the butter over medium-low heat. Add the shallots and sweat them for 2-3 minutes without browning. Add the parsnip, celery root, and 4 sprigs of rosemary, and continue to sweat for 5-6 minutes.
Add the white wine, increase the heat to high, and reduce the liquid by half—to about a cup. Add the stock and bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer and cook, semi-covered, for 45 minutes. Remove from heat. Remove rosemary sprigs. Stir in cream.
Transfer the soup to a blender carafe. When blending hot food, remember not to fill the carafe up to the top. Allow room for the liquid to expand and steam to rise and dissipate as it blends. Always start your blender on a low speed, and ramp it up to high from there, so you can control the process and avoid food explosions. Alternately, you can use a “stick” or immersion blender to blend the soup to a creamy, smooth consistency. The texture you want is smooth velvet, not applesauce, so blend away until you get the consistency right.
Place the remaining 2 sprigs of rosemary in a fine mesh sieve or chinois, and strain the blended soup over them. Discard rosemary in sieve. Season soup to taste with pear vinegar and salt. Divide the soup amongst serving bowls. Stir up the almond oil so that the flecks of vanilla are suspended throughout the oil, before drizzling over the soup.