Curried Parsnip Soup

I once served this soup, first popularized by Jane Grigson in an Observer article in 1969, to a sophisticated Parisian and asked him what he thought it was made of. Artichoke, he wondered, or potato and carrot? The guessing game went on until he`d run out of vegetables. My triumphant revelation of parsnip left my friend dumbfounded. In France, he explained, parsnips are cattle feed and rarely turn up on the dinner table. Apart from this sublime soup, what a lot of treats the French are missing. I`d hate to forgo crusty roast parsnips (peel and par-boil, quarter then roast in olive oil turning once during cooking), parsnip mash (superb with rabbit) and parsnip game chips (‘sliced’ with a potato peeler and deep-fried).

It turns out that as well as tasting good, parsnips have some interesting properties. A high glycaemic index, higher than chocolate and almost as high as glucose, means that they boost energy faster than a quick sugar fix. Like potatoes, which they resemble, parsnips are virtually fat free and very low in calories. The soup is thick and creamy with a background hint of curry that is perceptibly lifted by lemon zest and juice. The fresh citric zing is reinforced with a garnish of creme fraiche and complemented by scraps of crisp smoked bacon and chives. Serve with crusty bread and butter for a really satisfying soup supper.

Serves 6

Prep: 25 min

Cook: 40 min

1 tbsp vegetable oil

75g smoked bacon lardons or chopped rashers streaky bacon

2 onions

2 big garlic cloves

750g parsnips

1 lemon

25g butter

1 tbsp curry powder

2 chicken stock cubes dissolved in 1 ½ litre

150ml creme fraiche

small bunch chives or few sprigs flat leaf parsley

Heat the oil in a spacious, heavy-bottomed pan and add the bacon. Cook, stirring a couple of times, for about five minutes until the fat is very crisp. Scoop out of the pan onto absorbent kitchen paper to drain. Meanwhile, peel, halve and chop the onions. Peel and chop the garlic. Peel the parsnips, quarter lengthways and chop. Remove the zest in wafer-thin pieces from the lemon. Add the butter to the pan and when melted, stir in the onion, garlic and lemon. Cook gently, stirring a couple of times, for a few minutes and then stir in the parsnip. Cover the pan and cook for five minutes, stir again and cook for a further five minutes. Stir the curry powder into the vegetables, stirring until disappeared into the juices and cook for a couple of minutes. Add the stock, bring to the boil, partially cover the pan and cook at a steady simmer for 15-20 minutes until the parsnip is tender. Liquidize in batches, return to the pan and adjust the seasoning with salt, pepper and lemon juice. If the soup seems too thick, add a little water. Serve with a swirl of cream, bacon croutons and a sprinkling of freshly snipped chives.