Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Roasted Jerusalem Artichoke Soup

Before I first made Marcella Hazan's "Topinambur trifolati" (sauteed Jerusalem artichokes) back in 1982, I had only eaten these earthy tubers raw, in salads. I never would have imagined that the flavor could be so dramatically altered by the simple act of slow cooking with a little garlic and olive oil. Such is the brilliance of Italian food (real Italian food, that is), that with just a few added ingredients and minimal treatment, the soul of a vegetable can shine forth so delectably, so irresistibly. Since that day when I first prepared them this way, it became the standard by which all other methods would be measured (and for the most part, found wanting).

Roasted Jerusalem Artichoke Soup: Pure Comfort Food
Many years later, I began to see recipes appearing for "sunchoke soup,"  nearly all of which featured heavy cream, presumably to supply richness after the vegetables had been boiled to death. I realized that I had better come up with my own way of making this soup, returning to the essence of that wonderful (if-it-ain't-broke-don't-fix-it) slowly cooked, slightly caramelized preparation that brings out the sweetness of both garlic and Jerusalem artichokes. I'm pretty satisfied for the moment with a method that begins with a brief sauteing, followed by oven-roasting, which requires far less hands-on attention. I think I'll include it in my next book.

The name "Jerusalem artichoke" is somewhat elegant-sounding, but it's a complete misnomer, since the plant is actually a species of sunflower native to North America, with no connection to an artichoke--although when cooked, it does have a flavor and texture reminiscent of artichokes. "Sunchoke" is a more common name now, and I do use it sometimes, but I came across the other one first, and I guess it just stuck, so I use it in much the same way my wife uses "Xerox" as a verb for any kind of photocopying.

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