Not to sound repetitive but Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday and the more at the feast, the merrier. There are some family members and friends who can’t make it this year and will be terribly missed. The celebration will be smaller with little ones gathering as well so I will be downsizing the meal (don’t they just want rolls and mashed potatoes anyway?!).
I believe this meal is easy to prepare simply from annual repetition so I like to mix things up every year by adding a new item to the menu. Typically, I have guests arrive hours before for hors d’oeuvres then serve the big meal. This year I will serve dinner earlier and just offer a hearty soup mid-afternoon.
The question remains what seasonal soup to prepare? Originally, I thought of my mushroom bisque but that can be risky as some people don’t adore this fungus the way I do. We recently had weekend guests and I made butternut squash and pumpkin bisque. Although this may be the quintessential Thanksgiving soup, it is rather predictable. In light of that, I have decided to prepare a unique fall soup of pears and parsnips to soothe the growling stomachs and save room for the grand feast.
Parsnips are a misunderstood root vegetable that imparts a slightly sweet earthy flavor especially to soup. We eat them frequently in the fall and winter roasted or boiled with turnips. One of my favorite tales comes from my husband’s family. It was their tradition to serve mashed parsnips and turnips at holiday meals (sounds a little odd but believe you me, with the ton of butter in this dish, it is wonderful). Bob’s brother-in-law LOVED this dish and looked forward to it every year. One year the casserole was carried to the apartment in Manhattan in a paper bag. Well, you know what happened ~ the dish was splattered all over the sidewalk and there was no casserole that year. Michael was devastated but we still laugh at the memory today!
Pears on the other hand have been referred to as the grandfather to the apple and the queen of fruit. The pear is not actually related in genus to the apple; it is just that it was cultivated so long ago…like 4000 years. Pears differ more in size, shape, texture and flavor than any other fruit of the orchard.
The flavor of the pear is generally delicate and subtle (hence the nickname of queen) but that quality can be easily lost by the slightest imperfection. Finicky fruit for sure. Other characteristics that define pears is that although juicy, they can spoil fairly quickly and the texture becomes mushy. So for cooking they are best to be slowly ripened at room temperature over several days; otherwise they will become mealy if rapidly warmed after cold storage.
The European pear is the familiar elongated shaped fruit with smooth flesh. They are classified by their storage life and according to when they are harvested; summer (Bartlett), fall (Bosc) and winter (Anjou). I prefer Bosc pears for cooking as they are the sweetest and juiciest and I usually cook with pears in the fall.
The Asian pear has a similar shape to an apple and has a crisp flesh. Pears in America are usually cross-bred with an Asian species as they find it to be hard going, especially in the eastern parts of the states where disease is a common enemy. The cross breeding actually can create an undesirable grittiness though so stick with the European pears.
Ali’s Roasted Parsnip and Pear Soup
- 1-1/2 lbs. fresh parsnips,, peeled and chopped
- 2 T. olive oil
- 1 tsp. allepo pepper*
- Sea salt and fresh ground pepper to taste
- 3 Bosc pears, peeled and chopped
- 3 leeks (white portion only), thinly sliced
- 2 celery ribs, chopped
- 3 shallots, minced
- ¼ c. butter
- 4 c. chicken stock
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 tsp. fresh thyme, chopped
- ½ c. heavy cream
- Raw pear slices or thyme for garnish
- Pre-heat oven to 425 degrees. Toss parsnips, allepo, salt and pepper with oil.
- Roast uncovered for 25 minutes. Stir occasionally.
- Add pears and roast 20 minutes longer until parsnips are tender.
- In a large pot, melt butter. Add leeks, shallots and celery. Sauté about 5-6 minutes until tender.
- Add stock, bay leaf, thyme and parsnip/pear mixture.
- Bring to a boil then simmer for 30 minutes. Cool slightly.
- Remove bay leaf then puree with an immersion blender.
- Add cream and bring soup back to a simmer and serve.
*I usually make the soup a day before serving to allow for the union of these glorious flavors. The pears lend a hint of sweetness while the aleppo brings a little spicy heat and color to the soup. What is allepo you ask? It is a mighty Turkish chili pepper spice that is often used as a substitute for crushed red pepper (although milder) or paprika. Allepo originated in Syria but is mostly grown today in Turkey.
I would be remiss if I did not mention a lovely dessert item that you can add to your menu this year. Leftovers are perfect for feeding weekend guests so don’t worry about having too many desserts (I’d say that’s an oxymoron). My friend Miriam recently created one of the most beautiful pear tarts that I have ever seen. Like me, she has a difficult time working with pastry of any kind. We often make fun of ourselves for this inability but this time Miriam was spot on. The tart was simply gorgeous and photographed as if a professional took the shot (see photo below).
My friend Ellen (who CAN cook just about anything) had once given me her pear tart recipe but I created a disaster and I threw it away. Because I am a redhead, I stubbornly persisted and followed the recipe Miriam shared with me. Mine is actually an adaptation of Miriam’s Martha Stewart recipe.
Ali’s Pear and Fig Tart
- 1 store-bought pie crust
- 1 c. slivered almonds
- ½ c. maple syrup
- 1 stick cold butter, chopped
- 1 egg
- ¼ tsp. salt
- ½ c. Ali’s home-made fig jam
- 3-4 Bosc pears, peeled and sliced lengthwise
- Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.
- Roll out the pie crust on a lightly floured surface to fit a 9-inch tart pan. Press crust on the sides and bottom of the pan. Chill until ready to assemble.
- Combine almonds and syrup in a food processor, pulse until almonds are evenly ground.
- Combine butter and egg to nut mixture in the processor.
- Spread half of the jam in the bottom of the crust.
- Top with nut mixture.
- Arrange pear slices in a fan pattern over the nut mixture.
- Line a baking pan with parchment paper and place tart pan on top. Bake 40-45 minutes.
- Remove tart from oven and allow to cool before removing the tart pan. This is the tricky part and when you may destroy your tart!
- Glaze the cooled tart with remaining warmed jam.* Serve immediately.
*Miriam’s secret to the shining glaze ~ coating the top with orange marmalade in place of fig jam. You could also substitute apricot jam.
When I started this blog five years ago, I wrote a series of four posts about Thanksgiving. Please refer to November 2012 and 2016 archives for new ideas for your feast this year.
Bon appétit and Happy Thanksgiving!