A soup of toasted parsnips with porcini

I have 2 large jars of porcini. Have I just made you jealous? Dried porcini mushrooms cost a fortune in the shops, I know. But mine were for free. We picked mushrooms in the summer, cut them in thin slices, spread them on racks, and dried them on top of the wood-stove in my parents’ holiday cottage in the Czech Republic.
And now I have so much, I could use them every other day. Except: the kids don’t like mushrooms. They are very skilled at detecting the smallest trace of them in any dish and refusing to eat subsequently. I don’t know how it’s possible that kids like that were born into a family of mushroom lovers. And so for the sake of simplicity I tend to cook mushroom-free. But this week I had enough and decided nothing would stop me, not even having to cook 2 meals on one day. And so I made this parsnip porcini soup from Nigel Slater’s wonderful two-volume masterpiece: Tender.
Because the combination sounded so intriguing – toasted parsnips combined with earthy mushrooms. And let me tell you: it was worth the trouble ( I mean having to cook two different soups). After I made it, I kept going back to the pan to taste it again and again. Because for such a simple dish, requiring just a few ingredients, there is a huge depth and complexity of flavours – the sweetness of toasted parsnips with a hint of aniseed offset by the concentrated mushroom flavour of the porcini.
Make it, even if you have to buy your porcini, you won’t regret it.

Parsnip porcini soup
Adapted from Nigel Slater: Tender/ volume 1
Serves 6 as a starter or 4 as a light meal.
The only thing I changed was exchanging the porcini toast Mr. Slater serves with the soup for a simpler combination of walnuts and croutons. Why? Because it somehow sounded like more work than I was willing to handle at the moment and required another handful of porcini. And I did not want to put you off, you see.

1 handful dried porcini
2 medium onions
3 tbsp olive oil
a large knob of butter
600 g parsnips (about 2 large ones)
1 liter vegetable stock
1 stick of celery, chopped
1 clove of garlic, peeled and squashed

To serve:
3 slices of slightly stale bread
a handful of walnuts, roughly chopped
2 tbsp olive oil

Soak the porcini in 300 ml warm water for 30 minutes.
Peel the onions, chop them roughly and put in a heavy-based pan with the oil and butter. Cook till soft and translucent, stirring regularly. Peel the parsnips and cut them into large chunks. Add them to the pan and let them colour lightly on all sides. They need to be evenly but gently toasted – a pale honey gold rather than mahogany brown. This will take seven to ten minutes with the occasional bit of stirring.
Pour in the stock, then add the celery, garlic, the porcini and their soaking water. Season and bring to the boil. Turn the heat down so that the soup simmers merrily for about forty minutes.
Purrée the soup in a blender. Add salt and pepper, if needed. Serve with croutons and walnuts.

To make the croutons:
Cut the bread in cubes. Warm oil in a frying pan and add bread cubes and walnuts. Fry until golden.

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