Thursday, March 31, 2011

sunchoke soup

sunchoke soup with a drizzle of olive oil

It takes a really dedicated soul to make it to the farmers’ market these days. It’s not so much the cold – though it does take a kind of Spartan determination to be a greenmarket regular in winter months – it’s more the duration of the winter we’ve been dealt this year. The cold doesn’t seem to let up, and my hat, scarf and mittens are my constant and faithful companions.

Still, despite the blustery winds and the numbing morning chill, I go faithfully every Saturday, bundled up, with my reusable grocery bags in tow. I go partly because it’s a habit now, and partly because I like to support local farmers. It kicks off my weekend and it’s now part of my Saturday morning tradition.

sunchokes

On my way back, my bags are heavy with produce, my mind at work on what I will cook. This month, while my heart is dreaming of delicate little salad greens, rhubarb, and asparagus, my stomach is requesting soups and stews.

We’re still in that tenuous time when the greenmarket offers relatively little in ways of produce. There are various root vegetables, like the parsnips I picked up a few weeks back; potatoes – hearty and covered in dirt; cold storage apples – well past their autumn glory; and various bulbs: onions, shallots, garlic. I get these and few others each week and it’s kind of amazing what this simple assortment is capable of providing.

Last Saturday, while I was replenishing my dwindling garlic and onion supply (you have no idea how quickly these disappear in my kitchen!) I spied sunchokes in a corner bin.

caramelized onions are perfect for the soup!

Fitting with the humble winter produce look, these tubers are not stunners. On the outside, they look like hunks of ginger, with knobs and twists. Also known as Jerusalem artichokes (though they are neither from Jerusalem nor artichokes) sunchokes are the tubers of the sunflower plant, and are, in fact, native to North America. When cooked, they fall apart and their texture resembles that of potatoes. It is precisely for that quality that makes sunchokes such great candidates for soup.

Here was a simple, but elegant affair – sunchokes simmering in a garlic-and-thyme-infused broth along with a generous helping of olive oil, until soft and falling apart. A quick whir of my immersion blender brought the lumpy mess into silky, creamy, fragrant goodness. I could’ve served it as is – it was soothing, warming and comforting – just what the weather ordered; but I wanted a bit of a backbone out of my soup, so I added a few spoonfuls of lemon juice, grated some parmesan cheese on top, and drizzled my finest olive oil to finish it off. I had some caramelized onions lying around – and I thought them to be the perfect topping. Finally, having arranged my soup just the way that I wanted, I grabbed my bowl and hungrily gobbled it up.

earlier that day...

It was a perfect Sunday night dinner – one that would fortify us through the elements of the outgoing fickle March and incoming unpredictable April. Perhaps this upcoming weekend I will spy a sign of spring at the market – a spring onion, maybe?

And if not, I have this soup to turn to – with a warm, fragrant bowl my hands, it’ll carry me nicely into sunny spring days, when I can finally ditch my mittens, scarf, and hat and head out to the greenmarket in something decidedly lighter – a sundress would do just fine.

Sunchoke Soup
Inspired by Jenniewho told me to consider sunchokes for a soup, and I took it from there – so thanks to Jennie for such a brilliant idea!

2 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon fresh thyme, plus more for garnish
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
1 1/2 pounds sunchokes
3-4 cups vegetable stock
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
2 teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
Freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano (optional)
Caramelized onions for garnish (optional)

1. In a medium pot, over medium heat, warm the olive oil until it is shimmering. Add the garlic and thyme and cook for 1 minute, releasing their flavors.

2. Add the sunchokes, stock, the rest of the olive oil, and salt. Bring to a boil, cover, reduce heat to low and simmer for an hour, until sunchokes are soft and are practically falling apart. If some of the tubers refuse to fall apart, cut them into smaller chunks with a knife.

3. With an immersion blender, puree the soup until smooth. Ladle into bowls and serve with caramelized onions, extra drizzled olive oil, grated cheese and thyme.

Serves 4.

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12 Comments

  • 1
    JenniferA said:

    Here’s some more trivia about sunchokes – they multiply like crazy in your garden! A previous owner of my house planted them and by the time we moved in the garden was abandoned and completely taken over by them. They grow to about 6 feet tall and have small yellow flowers on top – not the big kind on a normal sunflower. And even though I’ve been using the garden for 6 years now, I still find them out there. At least now I have an idea of what to do with them the next time I pull up a few tubers! :-)

    March 31, 2011 1:33 pm
  • 2
    Radish said:

    JenniferA – in the spirit of full disclosure (something I failed to mention above bc it just didn’t fit with the flow of the story) sunchokes should be introduced into the diet gradually. They have a form of carbohydrate that the body has a hard time breaking down – the result is some abdominal gassiness :)

    March 31, 2011 1:42 pm
  • 3
    JenniferA said:

    Oh my. Beano to the rescue.

    Also in the spirit of full disclosure, when I find them in my garden I usually use their full name – freakin’ sunchokes!!! ;-)

    March 31, 2011 1:50 pm
  • 4

    I love this post… but I’m so glad I also read your comment about the digestion process.

    Despite that, I may still give this a try, as I haven’t had sunchokes before and have been meaning to test them out.

    March 31, 2011 1:59 pm
  • 5

    Sounds so good. I have never cooked with sunchokes, I should give them a try before the winter veggies are gone!

    April 1, 2011 1:51 am
  • 6
    Molly said:

    Having never tried a sunchoke, I will heed the warning of these comments and start out slowly. This recipe looks wonderful, but now I know not to jump right in. Thank you.

    April 1, 2011 9:01 am
  • 7
    dinazad said:

    The nice thing about sunchokes (apart from the fact that they are healthy, suitable for diabetics and – so they say – natural appetite-curbers) is that you can eat them raw. They’re nice in salads, and if I’ve dug up too many of them, I just chop them up very finely, cover them with olive oil and use them as a sort of pesto (for some reason, if you chop them together with red bell peppers, your ersatz-pesto tastes of walnuts). Stored in a plastic bag in the crisper of your fridge or on a frosty balcony they also keep fresh for several weeks.

    April 1, 2011 11:26 am
  • 8
    Amy said:

    Do you have to peel the sunchokes or just toss them in as is?

    April 1, 2011 6:04 pm
  • 9
    Radish said:

    Amy – good question. You just scrub them really hard – and then toss in the pot.

    April 1, 2011 6:36 pm
  • 10

    I can’t think of a better way to start off a Saturday morning than heading to the farmer’s market. What a gorgeous and original soup this is!

    April 4, 2011 12:14 am
  • 11
    Jackie said:

    I grew up eating sunchokes, but the only way I’d ever seen them prepared was pickled. I’ve always wondered what other ways there were to prepare them. Thanks for the soup recipe- I’ll have to try and see how they are cooked vs. pickled! Fun fact: sunchokes in Assyrian are called “apple of the earth”.

    April 5, 2011 8:55 pm
  • 12

    Thanks for the great recipe! I love JAs. As everyone has mentioned, once you plant them you have them for life! I eat then in salads, stir-frys, bake them, you name it, I have tried it.

    They also make a good Summer hedge and the late summer flowers are pretty.

    Arthur!

    May 24, 2012 10:07 am

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