Weekday Vegetarian Thanksgiving: Parsnip Bisque with Crispy Chestnuts

weekday vegetarian thanskgiving table photo

Photo: Kelly Rossiter

When I sat down to think about a series of posts for a vegetarian Thanksgiving dinner, I realized that just trying out the recipes over the course of a week wouldn't do. I needed to know that the menu worked as a whole, that the progression of flavours was right, that the dishes tasted good together on the plate, and that I chose the right dessert.

So two weeks before Thanksgiving, I gathered family and friends together and we feasted on a vegetarian dinner that was more delicious than I ever could have imagined. And I can guarantee that not one person missed having a turkey.All of the vegetables for the dinner were local, and it was a real harvest festival meal. Here is the menu:

Parsnip Bisque with Crispy Chestnuts
Spicy Cheese Biscuits
Vegetable Tagine with Harissa
Butternut Squash and Roasted Garlic Galette
Shaved Brussels Sprouts with Red Onion, Lemon and Pecorino
Mushroom Stuffed Tofu Cake with Wild Mushroom Thyme Gravy
Cranberry Sorbet
Assorted Cheese

This is a lot of food, and a lot to cook, so the trick is to be organized and make as much in advance as possible. My other trick is to get my son, who is a fabulous cook, to come over and help out on the afternoon of the party. He made the tagine and the wild mushroom gravy while I vacuumed and set the table. Throughout the week I will be posting the recipes for the entire meal.

weekday vegetarian parsnip bisque photo

Photo: Kelly Rossiter

The parsnip bisque can be made up to three days ahead, and you just add the chestnuts when you are ready to serve it. I thought the bisque was still a bit lumpy after putting it through the blender, so I put it through a sieve, which turned out to be the most time consuming part of this otherwise very easy recipe.

It was worth the effort though, because in the end it had a beautiful silky texture. I used fresh chestnuts which I roasted and peeled the day before dinner. They didn't get crispy when we sauteed them, but it didn't matter it was delicious anyway.

We had nine people for dinner, so I doubled this recipe. With so much food to come there's no need for a big bowl of soup to begin. Parsnips are a delicate, sweet tasting vegetable and a small bowl set the tone for the rest of the dinner. For a vegan soup, use olive oil rather than butter to saute the vegetables.

This recipe comes from Gourmet, December, 1999.

Parsnip Bisque with Crispy Chestnuts

1 small onion, chopped
3/4 lb parsnips, peeled and chopped
1 medium boiling potato, peeled and chopped
2 fresh thyme sprigs
2 teaspoons unsalted butter
Freshly ground white pepper
3 cups vegetable broth
8 vacuum-packed whole chestnuts, coarsely crumbled
Garnish: chopped fresh chives

1.Cook onion, parsnips, potato, and thyme sprigs in 1 teaspoon butter in a 3-quart saucepan over moderate heat, stirring, until just beginning to brown on bottom of pan, 4 to 5 minutes. Season with salt and white pepper and add broth and water. Simmer, covered, until vegetables are tender, about 20 minutes. Discard thyme sprigs.

2. Puree soup in batches in a blender (use caution when blending hot liquids) and transfer to a bowl. Return soup to saucepan with salt and white pepper to taste and keep warm.

3. Sauté chestnuts in remaining 1 teaspoons butter in a small nonstick skillet over moderately high heat, stirring frequently, until browned and crisp, about 5 minutes. Serve soup topped with chestnuts.

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