I first heard of a “sunchoke” on Top Chef. Someone was making a sunchoke purée and I thought, “What the hell is that?” The purée looked like mashed potatoes. I looked up the name online and found that they are often called “Jerusalem artichokes.” Sounds glamorous, but I’d still never heard of them, so I filed away the information in one of the mental folders I use for trivia games, and never thought about them again.
Recently I came across some interesting little tubers at a farmers’ market that had an exotic sounding name. They looked like some kind of weird reddish potato-ginger root crossbreed and were labeled “topinambour.” Cool name, right? My favorite food name in French is for “grapefruit,” which is “pamplemousse,” but I digress. I typed it into my handy cell phone translator and was excited to see “Jerusalem artichoke” typed back at me. I felt my brain dust off an old file, lurch with excitement, and direct me to seize the little roots at once and finally create something with them.
Jerusalem artichokes (known alternately as sunchokes, topinambours, or earth apples) have, aside from wildly cool nicknames, a taste that is similar to most starchy root vegetables. They have a very earthy flavor, most strongly coinciding with those of the rutabaga, celeriac, and white potato. Like Rhode Island (which SNL taught us in neither a road nor an island), so too the Jerusalem artichoke is neither from Israel nor an artichoke. It is in fact the tuber from a variety of sunflower, and when soup-ified with a few other earthy ingredients, will have you smiling as much as its mother plant does.
Roasted Sunchoke Soup
Yield: 6 servings
6 cups water
2 tsp. white wine vinegar
2 pounds sunchokes (also known as Jerusalem artichokes)
3 garlic cloves, peeled
4 Tbsp. butter, melted and divided
1 cup chopped onion
1 cup chopped leek, white and light green parts only (2 Tbsp. held aside)
7 cups chicken broth
3/4 cup heavy cream
Ground white pepper
1/3 cup chanterelle mushrooms, chopped
2 Tbsp. leeks (from above)
1 Tbsp. butter
1 Tbsp. white wine
1 tsp. fresh thyme
Preheat the oven to 425˚F. Mix 6 cups water and vinegar in large bowl. Peel each sunchoke like a potato and place in the vinegar-water. This will keep them from browning as you peel the others.
Once finished, drain and rinse the sunchokes. Cut them into chunks and toss with some sea salt and white pepper, the peeled garlic cloves and 2 tablespoons of the melted butter. Place on a baking sheet and roast for 15-20 minutes, until tender.
Meanwhile, melt the remaining butter in a pot over medium heat. Add onion and leek and sauté until soft and translucent, stirring often, about 12 minutes. Remove sunchokes from the oven and add them and the garlic cloves to the onion mixture. Use a slotted spoon so as to leave as much melted butter behind. Cook for about 2 minutes, then add the chicken broth, increase heat to high, and bring to a boil. Once boiling, reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer for about 20-30 minutes, until flavors meld and sunchokes are falling apart. Remove from heat and allow to cool slightly.
Working in batches, purée soup in a blender or food processor until very smooth. Return to pot. Rewarm soup, adding more broth 1/4 cup at a time if needed for consistency. Stir in cream and season to taste with salt and white pepper.
Melt the butter for the garnish in a small pan. Once hot, add the leeks and sauté for about 6 minutes. Add chanterelles, wine, and thyme, and cook until the mushrooms sweat out their water and the wine has reduced, about 5-6 minutes. Season with a pinch of sea salt.
Divide soup among bowls and top with the sautéed mushroom mixture. Serve everything warm.