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Parsnip soup with chestnuts and mixed herb pesto

message posted 12-May-08 13:55:17
Serves 4

This is a stunning soup with a fantastic, velvety texture, perfect for serving as a first course for a dinner party. Cooked and peeled chestnuts are widely available in large supermarkets, either in the speciality aisles or near the stuffing mixes.

1kg parsnips
25g butter
Olive oil, for cooking
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
700ml chicken stock
100ml double cream
75g cooked and peeled chestnuts, chopped
Extra virgin olive oil, to drizzle

For the pesto

50g blanched skinless hazelnuts
2 tbsp finely grated Parmesan
1 tbsp roughly chopped flat-leaf parsley
1 tbsp roughly chopped basil
1 tbsp roughly chopped tarragon
100ml olive oil

1 Peel and chop the parsnips into equal-sized chunks. Heat the butter and 1-2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large pan and add the parsnips and some seasoning. Cover and sweat the parsnips for 8-10 minutes over a medium heat, stirring from time to time. Remove the lid, pour in the stock and bring to the boil. Cook for 15-20 minutes or until the parsnips are really soft.

2 For the pesto, roast the hazelnuts on a baking sheet in a hot oven until golden; cool completely. Tip them into a food processor with the Parmesan. Pulse a few times, then add the herbs and pulse again. With the motor still running, slowly pour in the olive oil and blend until you have a runny pesto. Check for seasoning. (The pesto will keep for a couple of days in the fridge, covered with a thin layer of olive oil.)

3 Blend half of the parsnips and stock in a food processor or liquidiser until smooth. Blend the remaining parsnips and stock, then add to the rest. For a really smooth finish, pass the soup through a sieve over a large bowl, pushing it through with the back of a ladle.

4 Pour the soup into a clean pan, stir in the cream and season to taste. Return to the boil and simmer until you have a fairly thick consistency. While the soup is simmering, roast the chestnuts in a frying pan with a little oil and seasoning until lightly golden. Drain on kitchen paper. Serve the soup in warm bowls and sprinkle over the chestnuts. Dot the pesto on the surface, then drizzle with extra virgin olive oil.

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