In this first installment of our New Year’s roundup, I’m here today to tell you about possible uses for my favorite tuber, the Jerusalem Artichoke, but before we even get that far, let’s clear one thing up.
I sometimes notice a look of confusion shoot across people’s faces when I mention Jerusalem artichokes, so let’s get the obvious question for some out of the way: Jerusalem artichokes are a species of sunflower native to North America and Northern Europe. They produce a somewhat strange looking yet wonderful tuber, pictured below, which is not only edible, but also exceedingly delicious and used as a root vegetable in many applications.
The other white tuber
Jerusalem artichoke tubers (henceforth: Jerusalem artichokes) are sort of similar in texture and consistency to a potato, but have less starch and a distinctive sweet, earthy, slightly perfumed and nutty flavor. Did I say less starch? Actually, they contain pretty much no starch at all as they store their carbon hydrates as inulin (not to be confused with insulin) rather than starch, but that’s probably another post.
Their uses are numerous: in their raw state, they can be sliced thinly and used for salads (try them with apples and hazelnuts). When sliced, they’re also good for frying or deep-frying (crispy, nutty gourmet potato-like chips, anyone?) and when whole they can be steamed or boiled and served as a side dish in place of potatoes or other root vegetables. If boiled, however, they have a tendency to turn to mush, a reaction we can actually use to our advantage if creating a purée or soup. If serving whole, consider steaming rather than boiling.
Obtaining Jerusalem artichokes
If you’re willing to put in a bit of an effort, Jerusalem artichokes are usually available from your local megamarket in the fall and throughout the winter. For reasons unbeknownst to any reasonably intelligent foodie, demands are pretty low and consequently prices may be pretty high.
There is another option, though. If you happen to know someone who thought planting Jerusalem artichokes in their garden seemed like a pretty good idea – here in northern Europe and Scandinavia, many of us do in fact know such a person – chances are you may be able to pick some up for free. See, Jerusalem Artichokes are the rabbits of the plantae-kingdom. Each plant will produce a ton of tubers (slight exaggeration there, but bear with me) and even a small piece of one tuber if left in the ground will grow into a new plant. Consequently, they grow at weed-like speeds and what once seemed like a good idea might have turned into a bit of a nightmare. Chances are your Jerusalem artichoke planting friend or neighbor will be more than happy to let you take some off their hands at the mere cost of you doing your own digging.
Moving on, then…
I hope this gives you a little more knowledge than you probably wanted about Jerusalem artichokes. Now back to the subject of soup! Jerusalem artichoke soup may well be my all-time favorite application for these wonderful little tubers: It’s easy to make, reasonably filling, dirt cheap if you have a steady supply of Jerusalem artichokes. Yet it has a nutty, sweet, complex flavor that makes the end product seem all the more luxurious and interesting, especially if paired with a few more of my favorite things: truffles (or truffle oil) and cured/smoked pig.
To share my love for Jerusalem artichokes and to show that fancy food doesn’t necessarily have to be expensive or complicated food, I served up a cream of Jerusalem artichoke soup as a starter for my New Year’s Dinner 2013. Despite the recipe being dead simple, it seemed to really please most of my diners, including eight months old baby Lukas.
Free parenting tip: If your baby is a picky eater, try feeding him/her the soup recipe below without garnishes. I’ve seen several babies who could not get enough of this stuff. To the point where they’d start crying if we suggested they try something else or took the soup away from them. Seriously! Incidentally, this is the only time ever you should listen to me on the subject of babies and parenting!
And with that, I give you the first dish in my New Year’s Eve dinner round-up: Cream of Jerusalem Artichoke soup with truffles, Pancetta and leek.
Cream of Jerusalem artichoke soup
- A generous splash of olive oil
- 60 grams of Pancetta finely chopped
- One large shallot roughly chopped
- One clove of garlic very roughly chopped
- 500 grams of Jerusalem artichokes washed, pealed and cut into uniform pieces
- 1 liter of chicken stock
- 200 milliliters of heavy cream
- A bit of leek
- Fried rashers of thinly sliced Pancetta or bacon.
- High quality extra virgin olive oil optional
- Sherry vinegar optional
- Put a heavy bottom pan over medium-low heat, add olive oil, Pancetta/bacon, shallot and garlic.
- Cook for a few minutes, stirring regularly until onions are shiny and soft, do now brown.
- Add Jerusalem artichokes and chicken stock, turn up heat and bring pot to a boil.
- Reduce heat to a simmer and cook uncovered for about half an hour or so until Jerusalem artichokes are tender.
- Strain out about half of the cooking liquid and reserve.
- Using an immersion blender, purée the cooked chokes, pouring in heavy cream and a few drops of truffle oil as you do.
- Season with salt, pepper and truffle oil to taste (careful, it's pungent stuff).
- If soup is too thick at this point, add some of the reserved cooking liquid to get texture right. Soup should be thick, but not a purée.
- Heat soup through properly and pour into heated bowls.
- Garnish with fried Pancetta/bacon and thinly sliced raw leek.
- Optional: Top each bowl with a few drops of extra virgin olive oil (for taste) and a few drops of sherry vinegar (to cut through the richness).
Do NOT chop garlic too finely and do not under any circumstances crush it. The finer you chop or crush garlic, the more pungent the flavor. We want a subtle garlic note in this dish, not an overpowering assault. A very rough chop or simple a light press with your palm will do.