For the croutons:
1/3 cup olive oil
3 or 4 slices white bread, crusts removed and cut into ½-inch cubes
For the soup:
2 Tbs. olive oil 2 – 3 chopped leeks
1 lb. parsnips, peeled, 1-inch pieces ¼ cup dry sherry (fino) or dry white wine
2 pints chicken stock 3 sprigs fresh thyme
2 small bay leaves, broken in half ½ tsp. white peppercorns, lightly crushed
Little heavy cream (optional) 2 Tbs. chopped fresh thyme, for garnish
Make the croutons:
Heat the 1/3 cup oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the bread cubes and fry, tossing and stirring, until crisp and golden on all sides. Drain on paper towels.
Make the soup:
1. Cook the leeks seasoned with a little salt, gently in oil until they have softened and just begin to turn golden. Add the parsnips and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until the parsnips are fragrant, about 2 min.
2. Add the sherry (or wine), increase the heat to medium high, and cook until most of the liquid has evaporated. Add the broth. Tie the thyme sprigs, bay leaves, and peppercorns together in a cheesecloth sachet and toss it into the pot. Partially cover the pot, bring to a boil, immediately lower the heat, and simmer partially covered until the parsnips are fully cooked.
3. Remove from the heat and let cool for about 5 min. Discard the herb sachet.
4. Purée the soup and adjust seasoning. Add cream just before serving and garnish each bowl with croutons and a pinch of fresh thyme.
*** Tie the thyme, bay leaves, and peppercorns together in a leftover leek green if you don’t have any cheesecloth.