Parsnips and Apples Soup, a Sweeter Fare for Meatless Fridays

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

.

I love apples! Seriously. Love them almost more than chocolate. Biting into a warm, crisp, just picked apple in autumn is only one step away from doing the same in summer with tomatoes.

Living in Michigan, where apple production ranks number three in the States, the harvest of this fruit peaks in late September through early October. There are so many apples to choose from that I would have a great time every week at the farm markets buying mixed bags. I’ve long since given up storing a bushel of apples through the winter, buying instead a few specialty varieties each week.

Apples are wonderful to teach the youngest of children about our faith. When you cut an apple in half along the equatorial plane, the cross section in the core looks like a star; the five-pointed Epiphany Star. The five seeds inside the five-pointed star stand for the five wounds of Christ.

Children love stars, and while stars are not traditionally associated with the Lenten season, there is a weekly program for children, six and up, called The Seven Stars of Lent. This worship resource helps to prepare children’s’ hearts to celebrate the Resurrection of Christ.

A second apple story used to teach about the Trinity is cut an apple in half from top to bottom and note the three parts: skin, meat and seeds. The outer skin represents the Father who encompasses all, Jesus is the meat of the fruit that feeds us, and the seeds are the Holy Spirit that when planted, will bring new life. An apple wouldn’t be an apple if any one of these elements was missing; so, too, with the Trinity.

Now, since you’re cutting up all those apples for educational purposes, how about a recipe! This is a savory and sweet soup more for the adult pallet; try cutting the spices by half for kids.

Parsnip and Apple Soup

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 cup chopped sweet onion (Vidalia is best)

2 1/2 cups (about a pound) peeled and chopped Pink Lady apples (or any slightly tart apple is fine—Granny Smiths are too sour!)

1 tablespoon curry powder

1 1/2 teaspoons grated peeled fresh ginger or 1/2 teaspoon dry

3/4 teaspoon ground cardamom

3 1/2 cups (about 1 1/2 pounds) chopped peeled parsnip

1 clove garlic finely chopped

4 cups chicken broth

1 cup apple cider (don’t use apple juice)

1/4 teaspoon salt (optional)

1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Sour cream dollops when serving

In a stock pot, sauté onions in oil until tender. Add apples, curry, ginger, and cardamom.  Simmer for about a minute to dissolve spices, stirring constantly. Add broth, parsnips, garlic, and cider. Cover and simmer for about 30 minutes or until parsnips are tender. CAREFULLY blend soup until smooth using a blender (or use an immersion blender). Serve with sour cream.

A side note here, I like to use oven roasted parsnips. They tend to be sweeter and lend a fuller flavor to the soup. Of course, your stove-top cooking time will be reduced.

Photo morguefile.com, by marybaird.

A Childhood with Oxtail Soup

.

As a child, my first memory of a soup is Oxtail. Not so much for its flavor—though it is delicious—but for the adventure at my grandmother’s side. [Skip to end for recipe.}

In late winter, after Christmas and before Lent, I would often spend a weekend at my maternal grandparents’ house. I delighted in the quietness and solitude that their home afforded.

When I was too small to help prepare foods, I would sit at grandma’s side on the bench to the kitchen table and chatter as she sliced and diced. My job was to carefully scoop up the prepared veggies with my pudgy hands and dump them in the fluted glass custard bowls. So much did I hunger for grandmother’s love that even when she chopped the onions I would not move away, no matter how much the stinging created tears.

Often, early in the morning before she even began preparing the vegetables for soup, we would hop in her brown and white Fairlane and head for the local butcher’s. Walking through the shop door next to my grandmother, I would feel slightly nauseated by the strong feculent scent and visual display of raw bloodied meats. My dizziness was exacerbated by the whirring heat venting out from under the glass cases as I stood in my snowsuit.

This particular butcher’s shop fed the ethnic appetites of the surrounding communities just outside Detroit. It was a time when religious affiliations mattered little and moral values spoke volumes. His display of goods was not nearly as polite as the governmentally regulated meat counters we see today. Besides the usual wurst’s, burger, and chops, I would stare at rows of blue-grey tongues of beef, plump veined mountain oysters, puddles of purple bloodied livers in silver trays, wrinkled kidneys and tripe, sinewy pig’s feet, and whole plucked chickens. There were other pieces of animal anatomy available for purchase, though I never ventured that far down the display case, staying instead near my grandmother’s side.

Grandma could ask for any number of meat items, but for this soup she would ask for eight joints high on the tail—“they are meatier you know” she would say to no one in particular. The butcher would nod and then disappear through double white doors. After a few minutes and multiple hard whacks he’d return with several joints on a reddish-brown sheet for grandmother to inspect. Her approval resulted in the bundle being wrapped in white paper and tied with string. If the butcher shop was not too busy, I would often get my own little trussed bundle.

Upon returning home she would set about preparing the vegetables with me dutifully at her side. Once the slicing and dicing was completed, she would pull out a large brushed aluminum stock pot, the bottom darkened with use, and, setting it on the back unit, would tip it to one side as she lit the burner with a wooden match. Adding the stock that had been thawed the night before, she would set about cooking our supper.

This recipe tastes very much the same as when my grandmother would make it. Oxtails in the 1950s were considered marginal foods and very inexpensive. Today they cost almost as much as sirloin. Though expensive, try to use them rather than stewing beef, for they add a unique flavor to the soup that cannot be duplicated.

Oxtail Soup

64 oz. beef stock (8-10 cups): Use homemade, prepackaged, or (my favorite) paste dissolved in water. Bouillon cubes may be used but they make the broth excessively salty and often bitter.

6-8 beef tail joints

½ large sweet onion, about a cup, diced and divided in half

2 celery stalks with leaves, diced

1 large carrot (unpeeled), diced

3 whole cloves or ¼ tsp. ground

½ tsp. salt (omit if using paste or bouillon)

¼ tsp. allspice (up to ½ tsp. to desired taste)

1/8 tsp. ground bay leaf

1-12 oz. can diced tomatoes, or better yet, home canned or frozen tomatoes

1-12 oz. can tomato juice, or 2 small 5.5 oz. cans

½ c. dry pearl barley, for thicker soup use up to 1 c.

1-10 oz. bag frozen peas and carrots or ¾ c. each fresh, do not use peas in pods.

Place stock in large soup pot; add beef tail joints, celery, carrot, and ½ of diced onion. Bring to boil, turn down heat and simmer until meat is tender, about two hours. Remove joints to cool. Meanwhile, puree stock. Remove meat from joints, discard bone and return meat to soup. Add remaining ingredients, bring to a low boil and simmer until barley is tender–about 20-30 minutes.

Leftover soup thickens; use tomato juice, white wine, or beef broth to thin, do NOT use water.

I rarely use the salt suggested in this recipe because of the sodium content in store-bought stocks and tomato juice. You can add fresh ground pepper to the soup when serving if desired, but avoid adding it to the soup when it is cooking. The pepper when added during cooking seems to dull the flavor of the allspice and cloves.

A brown rice mix can be substituted if you don’t like the nutty taste or chewy texture of barley. I have also used wild rice and loved it! Allow wild rice to cook for 30 minutes after you puree the soup and before you return the meat to the pot.

Image from Wikimedia.org, public domain, Stillleben mit Deckelterrine, brauner Tonschale, Brot und Weinglas. Öl auf Leinwand, 18th century.

Tortellini Onion Soup

shutterstock_13106131His name was Bill, though William seemed to suite him better. He was not very tall, only about 5’ 6”, a bit overweight and prematurely balding. He had bright pale blue eyes that smiled from behind thick wire rimmed glasses. Bill was a man of fine mettle, and a friend of a friend’s husband. We had met a few times in gatherings of similar social circles.

We were in our mid-twenties, me recently entering college while he having graduated several years earlier and working in his field. Bill was an oil drilling engineer. He looked at geology with a very different eye than most people. He travelled about the country as confident in his brown tweed suit for consulting, as he was in Vibram Sole hiking boots and backpack surveying potential drilling sites.

One afternoon he called and asked me to join him and his sister for dinner at a French restaurant he had discovered near his apartment. This may not seem too remarkable at first reading, but Bill lived in Denver, Colorado and I resided near Detroit.

A few days after the phone call, to which I had said yes, I received in the mail plane tickets and an itinerary of the four day weekend out west. I had never flown before and was nearly beside myself with excitement.

My very Catholic grandmother was delighted for my adventure and equally concerned about my virtue. None the less, she took me shopping for appropriate clothing, for I was after all a college student with a wardrobe indicative of that station in life. She only mentioned once her concerns.

Bill’s older sister was much like him. Short and round, thick glasses and prematurely aged. They both liked things that were aesthetically pleasing and minimalistic like modern art and jazz music—and really, really good food.

Apparently they had conspired to share with me, their city peasant, some of the finer delights of a true French cuisine. One of the items on the menu I had asked to try, along with the hors d’oeuvres they had ordered, was the onion soup. Bill’s sister turned slightly to meet his eyes, rolling her own, and shrugged. He then looked at me, smiled indulgently (knowing how much I loved soups), turned to the waiter and order it…in French of course.

What came was totally unexpected. A bubbling and slightly browned covering of baked cheese sealed in the soup beneath. I waited with great expectations as the soup cooled enough to consume. When I finally broke through the crusty cheese the aroma filled my senses, as did the taste of its hearty broth and sweet onions. It was by far one of the tastiest and most challenging soups to eat—being somewhat messy with the stringy cheese and trailing onions dripping steaming broth.

I thoroughly enjoyed that soup and often ordered it at restaurants back home, knowing each time that I would face the same daunting challenge of how to consume it with some dignity and grace.

The following stove top recipe tastes very much like the baked French Onion Soup served at restaurants but with the dripping hazard some what reduced.

Tortellini Onion Soup

3 large Vidalia sweet onions, cut into quarters and thinly sliced

1 each: carrot, celery stalk, medium parsnip, diced

2 tbl. olive oil

1 tbl. butter

32 oz. beef broth (pre-packaged or paste dissolved in water, don’t use bouillon cubes)

16 oz. vegetable broth (pre-packaged or paste dissolved in water…again, no cubes)

1 pkg., 9 oz., cheese tortellini, fresh is better but frozen works just fine

Salt and pepper to taste

Melt butter in olive oil and sauté sliced onions, when starting to turn clear, add remaining diced vegetables and cook until tender. Meanwhile, in large stock pot bring broth to a boil, add sautéed vegetables and tortellini. Simmer for about 5 minutes until pasta is tender. Add salt and pepper to taste. Serve with fresh hard crusted bread for dipping into soup.

I’ve tried unsuccessfully to change up this recipe by using regular, not sweet, Vidalia onions or omitting the parsnip. In both instances the flavor was changed, and not for the better. The sugar content of Vidalia’s when they’re cooked really makes this soup. The parsnip adds a flavor that is hard to identify but seems to be crucial to the excellence of this recipe.

(Image by Kellie L. Folkerts, courtesy shutterstock.com)

Sweet Corn Chowder and Friday Suppers

For me, this soup is the ultimate in comfort food. It is smooth and creamy, heavy on the carbs and sweetened by the corn. My grandmother also liked it for its ease of preparation—especially on meatless Fridays.

When I was a young adult and still residing at my widowed grandmother’s home, we shared busy though rarely hectic lives. Mine was filled with work, college, and the occasional date. She still had a hand in the business owned by her son, which she and her husband began, and went daily to attend to the books. Frequently she went to visit her friends, most of whom were less able-bodied than she, with her closest friend, Mable, in a nursing facility. There were also her weekly drives for a visit with her sister, Helen. Our Sundays were fully a day of rest with Mass always on Saturday night.

No matter how busy our days, we both made time for the evening meal. Sometimes that meal had to be quickly prepared.

This soup was a frequent go-to supper. Depending on the day it could be readied in as short as fifteen minutes using leftover potatoes, which were almost always available in the fridge—second shelf, clear glass bowl covered in a plaid plastic cover.

We both loved potatoes and cooked several of them at a time. I remember many times coming home to a kettle of recently boiled potatoes still warm on the stove. Beneath the lid would be a nest of egg-shaped new potatoes, red skinned Pontiacs, or small quartered russets in their dark scruffy skins.

Snatching one from the cluster and breaking it in half with my thumbs, I would roll it in the dish of butter that always sat on the table, and pop it into my mouth. Pressing it hard with my tongue against the back of my teeth, the soft buttery orb would fill my mouth with its earthy flavor. By then my grandmother would have set aside her rosary and made her way into the kitchen to greet me. With mock consternation she’d slap my buttery potato-flaked hands, scolding me to “Stay out of that kettle. Those potatoes are for…”—a salad, soup, or dinner.

When time permitted we would make this soup from fresh ingredients, cutting unpeeled potatoes and if it were late summer, scrape the kernels from ears of corn instead of using frozen or canned. The batches were often doubled or tripled, some for freezing, but mostly for sharing with Mable or Helen who were as fond of this soup as we were.

Corn Chowder

Boil in 2 c. of water:

2 tbl. butter
1 medium, about a cup, of diced sweet onion
½ c. diced celery, use the leaves too
¼ c. fresh parsley (dried flakes really do not work well in this soup)
4-5 medium potatoes, chopped
 

When potatoes are tender add to the stock:

16 oz. can cream style corn
16 oz. can whole corn, drained, or 1-1 ½ c. frozen or fresh
Salt & fresh ground pepper to taste
 

Simmer until heated through, and serve. Garnish with chives, parsley, or bits of green onion.

The flavor and texture of this soup can be subtly altered depending on the produce you use. New potatoes have a more chestnut flavor and make for a thinner broth because they still have a fair amount of pectin in them and don’t break down. Yukon Gold’s are sweeter in taste, especially if refrigerated, and create a golden-colored soup. Fresh home grown potatoes are fuller in flavor with a deep and rich earthy taste. Baking potatoes, like Russets, are higher in starch and thicken a soup.

Boiling or new potatoes remain fairly intact and will need to be lightly smashed into the stock. I often take an immersion blender and break down just a small portion of the potatoes to thicken the soup.

Using whole canned corn is perfectly fine but more flavor is added when using frozen. To add exceptional sweetness use corn shelled from the cob.

(Image by Voraorn Ratanakorn, courtesy shutterstock.com)

Lasers and Light

The furnace barely kept up. It ran almost constantly on Sunday as winter winds blew and made the awnings shudder and groan.

The kettle of chicken-vegetable soup simmered. Rice, carrots, and celery gently rolled to the top as I stood beside the stove and contemplatively watched the gentle bubbling. The steam incensed the kitchen—and all the house—with its aroma. 

I delight in making soups. All that was unfavorable and leftover can be brought together into a vital whole. For a single woman, a kettle of soup will nourish for weeks once frozen. More often than not, it is shared.

The happiness of cooking was short lived when exhaustion weighed in after I had prepped vegetables and pulled chicken from the bone. I sat hard on the sofa and leaned heavily into the pillows. The arthritic ache if my spine drained me physically and mentally. I’m not good at holding up well in adversity and whispered “Lord, have mercy.” 

A laser treatment on my spine a few days ago broke down restricting tissue to allow for more flexibility. The procedure was uncomfortable, but tolerated knowing better movement would result. The days that followed were filled with an unrelenting achiness, similar to overexerted muscles from gardening, but flexibility was definitely improved. 

It is the “daily” of it all that tries my patience. Things like having to make several trips up and down two flights of stairs because I can no longer carry a full basket of laundry. Then the feeling of guilt for lacking gratitude in that I have clothes enough for a full basket, laundry equipment to clean them, and legs strong enough to climb multiple flights of stairs. 

The same guilt rises when I grumble doing household chores in my tiny flat. There are only four warm and cheery rooms. Still I mutter under my breath about changing bedding, dusting furniture, and cleaning up pet hair. Sometimes I think God must see me as a fussy three year old needing a nap. 

I had been doing my best to adjust to a new normal. Grateful for the laser treatment and being a bit more limber, I offered up the discomfort as I worked my way through chores. But by Sunday I was spent.

There is a fine line between acceptance and resignation—or hopelessness—and I was about to cross it. That line is drawn with trust that God is near and in control, especially in the struggle.

On Monday morning I had an appointment and was slow to get out of bed. The delay meant there was not time enough to ease into my day with coffee and prayers. It was below zero that morning and the car engine was rough to start, and I thought “yeah, me too.” 

The heavy clouds and naked trees did nothing to improve my mood. Slumping towards the steering wheel, hands at 10 and 2, I looked and felt like I was 90 as I drove off into town. Leafless black-limbed trees whizzed past in a blur. 

Cresting a small hill I saw the fullness of a red and coral sunrise that had been hidden behind the woodlands. I saw in the distance a sunbeam on a small patch of dormant trees. Maybe only a dozen or so that was a vivid crimson in the band of light. 

The light on their dark limbs sparked in me a desiring. I hoped as I drove down the road that the light remained long enough that I would enter into its rays. There was a restlessness in me to move toward the Kindly Light, and I saw a need to maintain that restlessness when I felt distance from the comforting love of God.