Roasted Sunchoke and Mushroom Bisque
I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for gnarly, knobby vegetables. As much as I love a gorgeously tapered rainbow carrot, or a voluptuously round tomato, my heart is full of enough vegetable love to look past appearances and see the hidden beauty in hairy, lumpy celeriac and bulbous tubers like these sunchokes.
I was tickled, then, to be writing about sunchokes for my fall Seasonal Cooking column in Edible Finger Lakes Magazine. I think sunchokes are misunderstood and underappreciated — most people think they’re either (a) a type of artichoke (that misconception stems from their other moniker “Jersusalem Artichoke”), (b) oddly-shaped fresh ginger root, or (c) some weird variety of potato that frankly, can’t hold a candle to beautiful Yukon Golds and Adirondack Blues in the looks department.
But potato and artichoke they’re not, though they do resemble potatoes in their crunchy raw state:
They’re actually tubers, in the sunflower family — we started growing some this year on the land that we’re building a house on, and they bloomed at the end of the summer into beautiful yellow blossoms. The variety of sunflower is native to North America, but settlers brought the tubers back to Europe for cultivation. The story goes that they got their “Jerusalem Artichoke” alter-ego from the Italian word girasole, which means “sunflower” but along the way was somehow misinterpreted as “Jerusalem.”
I love their nutty, earthy taste, which I think is somewhat of a cross between potato and mushroom with a slight hint of artichoke. They’re great pan-fried in a little butter and tossed with herbs, thin-sliced into a gratin, as a hearty component to a winter salad, or simply roasted. If you go the roasted route, this soup is a wonderful treat to prepare with the browned, caramelized tubers.
I found the inspiration for this soup in one of my favorite cookbooks, Vegetable Soups from Deborah Madison’s Kitchen. The roasted sunchoke soup is featured in the “Roasted Vegetable Soups for Fall” chapter, and they’re combined with roasted potatoes to form the base of this simple bisque.
I thought that some meaty brown mushrooms would be a lovely complement to the earthy, nutty flavor of the sunchokes in this soup. So, after cooking a good handful of chopped mushrooms over high heat so that they were nicely browned (take a look through Ruhlman’s recent entry on hitting that “sweet spot” when cooking mushrooms), I folded them into the pureed soup….
…and finished it with a little cream and fresh chopped sage. Fresh thyme would be equally delicious.
This might be my new favorite fall soup. It’s warm and earthy and nutty without being really heavy, and perfect to wrap your hands around on a chilly November day.
And, it’s a lovely way to show a little love to the homely sunchoke…because not all vegetables need to be beauty queens.
[If you live in the Finger Lakes area, be sure to check out the Fall issue of Edible Finger Lakes magazine for more sunchoke information and recipes in my Seasonal Cooking column, as well as many more great articles about our local farms and food producers. Kudos to my editors for putting such a terrific issue together!]
Roasted Sunchoke and Mushroom Bisque
Adapted from Vegetable Soups from Deborah Madison’s Kitchen, a wonderful book if you like cooking soups with the seasons!
No need to peel the sunchokes before roasting them for this soup; just a good scrubbing will do. Fresh thyme would be an equally good herb to use in place of the sage, if you’re so inclined.
2 pounds sunchokes, scrubbed and cut into 1/3-inch slices
1 large potato, preferably Yukon Gold, scrubbed and cut into wedges
6 large garlic cloves
olive oil, sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 large onion or 2 leeks, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons butter, plus more for the mushrooms
8 ounces mushrooms, thickly sliced
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon fresh chopped sage or thyme leaves
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. In a large bowl, toss the sunchoke slices, potato wedges, and whole garlic cloves with olive oil and a few pinches of sea salt. Transfer them to a sheet pan (use two if they’re too crowded on one pan) and roast until the tubers are browned in some places, about 45 minutes.
Heat the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil and 2 tablespoons of butter in a large, heavy soup pot. Add the onion and cook over medium heat for several minutes, stirring occasionally. Add all of the roasted vegetables along with 1 teaspoon of sea salt and 1 cup of water. Cook over medium heat for 4-5 minutes, stirring occasionally, then add another 9 cups of water and any brown juices that remain on the sheet pan(s). Simmer soup, covered, for about 20 minutes or until vegetables are tender.
In the meantime, heat a saute pan over high heat with a little olive oil or canola oil, until it’s very hot. Add the sliced mushrooms along with a good pinch of salt, and cook until they’re nicely seared and brown. Season with a little freshly ground black pepper and set aside (you can reserve a small portion to use for garnishing the bowls.)
When soup is done cooking, use an immersion blender (or a regular blender, or food processor — if you use these methods, you’ll need to work in batches) to puree the mixture. I like to leave a little bit of texture in my soup, and flecks of brown from the sunchoke skins. Stir in the cream, mushrooms, and chopped sage (or thyme.) Taste for salt and adjust to your liking; add freshly ground black pepper.
Serve, optionally garnished with a little mound of browned mushrooms and more chopped herbs.
Makes 6-8 servings.