A seasonal vegetable can often serve as inspiration for a recipe. Young spring asparagus, summer heirloom tomatoes and fall's copper-hued sweet potatoes have all been sources of creativity in my kitchen. During the winter months, though, I see less to spark my imagination. But the other day, while looking at winter produce at a local supermarket, I spotted a display of Jerusalem artichokes, or, as they are sometimes labeled, sunchokes.
It had been several years since I bought any of the brown knobby tubers, which are not truly artichokes but, rather, members of the sunchoke family. I remembered well the delicious, slightly sweet and nutty taste of the cooked vegetables.
I also recalled that this vegetable does not come from Jerusalem. The name is derived from the Italian word girasole, which means sunflower.
I placed two packets of sunchokes in my cart along with some leeks and, before leaving the store, knew that my purchase would be turned into a soup.
At home I peeled and diced the sunchokes and chopped the leeks. Both were sauteed in butter, then simmered in chicken stock. After 20 minutes the vegetables were fork-tender and ready to be pureed. I used half-and-half to enrich the soup, then garnished each serving with a sprinkling of parmesan cheese and chopped parsley.
A few days after I served the soup to my family, a good friend called to suggest that we plan and cook a winter dinner together. She wanted to prepare mustard-glazed salmon fillets and roasted vegetables and asked if I had any thoughts for the first course. It took me only a few seconds to propose the latest addition to my culinary repertoire. On the night of our get-together, I knew it was a good choice when I saw more than one person go out to the kitchen for seconds.
Cream of Jerusalem Artichoke Soup
2 1/4 to 2 1/2 pounds Jerusalem artichokes
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 cups chopped leeks, white and light-green parts only
6 cups chicken stock
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt, plus more if needed
3/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more if needed
1 cup half-and-half
6 tablespoons grated parmesan cheese, preferably Parmigiano- Reggiano
4 teaspoons chopped flat-leaf parsley
Peel Jerusalem artichokes using a vegetable peeler or sharp paring knife. Then cut them into 1-inch dice.
Heat butter in a large, nonreactive pot over medium heat. When melted and hot, add leeks and cook, stirring, until softened, 3 to 4 minutes. Add diced artichokes and cook, stirring, 1 minute more. Add stock, salt and pepper and bring mixture to a simmer. Lower heat, cover and cook until vegetables are tender, about 20 minutes.
Puree mixture using a food processor, blender or food mill. Then return pureed soup to pot in which it was cooked. Stir in half-and-half. Taste and season with more salt and pepper, if desired. (The soup can be prepared 1 day ahead; cool, cover and refrigerate. Reheat soup over low heat, stirring often.) To serve, ladle soup into 6 soup bowls. Sprinkle each serving with a tablespoon of parmesan cheese and a little parsley. If desired, garnish each serving with a grinding of black pepper.