The first signs of spring are pushing their way into the world. Tiny green shoots among the previous years grasses, delicate snow drops dot the gardens and the old magnolia tree is heavy with buds. Some days I find myself lighting a fire in the fire-place but other days, I have the windows thrown open, perhaps prematurely as I end up wrapped in layers, but the heady smell of the new season is powerful and irresistible; anything seems possible.
There is something thrilling about the first days of any new season but particularly I think to spring. Storms blow through often and with unmatched ferocity. Frost creeps in when you don’t expect and the occasional few inches of snow are still falling. These early days ask us to, rather consistently in fact, embrace the unexpected. As temperatures flip-flop and time changes come to pass, plunging us into darkness where there had been light and lifting the shadow of dark winter afternoons, we must wait patiently for what we know is coming. I, somewhat happily, awoke the other morning to find spring banished altogether and in its place, a wintery blanket of snow. Confused and delighted, I pulled on my boots and trudged out into the white world knowing full well that it wouldn’t last into the afternoon. I think it a bit remarkable that even after being away from this place for so long, I still understand its basic pulse. I feel pleased that the childhood memories of this land, not the film strip type of memory but the ones embedded and entwined in the land, endure after so much time away.
This simple bowl of chowder is full of deeply earthy, satisfying flavors – it craves a brisk walk in the steely sunshine and a thick cut slice of dark brown bread.
Chowder is something which feels synonymous with my New England roots. The ubiquitous clam chowder is ingrained in the food culture of the region as much as fish & chips are here in London. I grew up eating simple corn chowder and on other occasions a more robust oyster chowder. I like that they are quick to make and can usually be made with things already in the larder – the staples – butter, milk, water, potatoes.
The origins for this chowder came on a walk through Richmond Park. I can understand why King Henry VIII used it as his hunting grounds- so beautiful & so varied in such proximity to the city. After an earnest walk, I wanted something delicious but unfussy. I used what I had around for this root vegetable chowder. One of which was a large amount of whey left over after making cheese the day before. Instead of dumping the protein rich whey, I used it as the stock base for this chowder. Water or a light stock work equally well.
Serves a group (4-8 depending on serving size)
1 1/2 pounds parsnips
1 1/2 pounds turnips (or swedes as they are known here)
2 sm/medium sized potatoes
1 large yellow onion. chopped.
3 springs of thyme
1 bay leaf
3/4 tsp garam masala
4 cups whey, water or light stock
2 cups milk (whole recommended)
knob of ghee or butter
sea salt & fresh black pepper
Melt ghee in the pan and when it starts to bubble add the chopped onion, thyme and a pinch of sea salt.
Sweat the onions until they are translucent. Stir in the garam masala, toast until fragrant, then add the bay leaf and thyme. Stir everything together then add the washed and chopped parsnips, potatoes & turnip. It is up to you if you would like to peel them or not. I usually don’t. Just make sure to use a turnip that is unwaxed, otherwise it should be peeled.
Stir veg together until it is well coated in the ghee & spices. Let it cook for a few minutes more to blend all the flavors together.
Add your stock liquid, which ever you are using and a dash of salt. Bring it to a boil and reduce heat. Simmer for about 25 minutes or until turnips, parsnips and potatoes are very soft.
Liquid should have reduce down quite a bit.
Once the vegetables are done, remove pan from the heat and let it cool a few minutes. Using your preferred method, blend into a smooth but still quite textured mixture.
Return pan to a low heat and slowly add in the milk. You may need to add a little more milk depending on your preference. Heat milk through but do not scald or boil it.
Salt & pepper to taste.
optional – I serve each of the bowls topped with toasted leeks, a drizzle of herb oil and a few dried cranberries.