Sunchoke Chowder

The recent nice weather has me dreaming big dreams of garden-overhaul: what plants to take out, what new plants to put in…how to put the greenhouse together, what seeds need to be started, whether or not it’s a good idea to get MORE chickens…

Spring Cleaning, it seems, is not restricted to the indoors this year. There have been some major changes taking place in the yard.
One of the goals for this year is to bring in more natives, more groundcover/mulching/nitrogen-fixing/soil amending plants, and try to plant only things that we will actually USE. Yes, there are many amazing, inspiring, and beautiful plants out there that I would love to grow, but some of them just aren’t right for this climate (hot peppers, pomegranates). Some are prohibitively high-maintenance (brussels sprouts, cabbages) and some I just never get around to eating (radishes).
I am also being more honest with myself about our limitations in this space: we are never going to be able to grow enough tomatoes to keep us in pasta sauce, salsa, and ketchup all year. Maybe those beds are better used for growing salad greens and root veggies and squash…especially since, in season, I can get organic heirlooms for $1/lb at the farmer’s market down the street.
Being more conscious with our garden plan will give us enough room to expand the crops we DO like, so that we can actually grow enough of them (garlic, onions, snap peas, beans, kabocha squash, mustard greens, beets, carrots, etc) to be completely self-sufficient and not have to buy them.

One plant that I have always been fascinated with is the sunchoke, or Jerusalem Artichoke. These plants are common in our area (though technically not native to this side of the US), and are a relative of the sunflower. You’ve likely seen them on the side of the road with their yellow daisy-like heads bobbing in the breeze. They’re everywhere; filling ditches and empty lots with their green leaves and vibrant blossoms.
In the back area of the yard, we have a lot of space where the chickens and ducks run around. I’ve been looking for ways to fill that space with plants that don’t need a lot of coddling. Hearty plants that can withstand dry spells and months of neglect.

Enter the sunchoke.
I figured if I was going to plant it, I ought to know what it was all about. I’ve had my share of sunchoke puree, and have had them roasted in a medley of other tubers, but didn’t really know much more about them, and had NEVER cooked with them. So last week at the farmer’s market, we picked some up. A quick glance at the internet said there’s much more that you can do with a sunchoke than just mashing it up and calling it a day. Gratins and casseroles, crisp raw salads, and many different sorts of soups called out to me. But one recipe really caught my attention: a cheesy, creamy sunchoke chowder with a garnish of quickly blanched fresh veggies and some chervil leaves on top – divine.

We didn’t want to go out to the store, so we used what was on-hand. Mostly, this was pretty easy to do (one of the great things about having a garden is there’s pretty much always SOMETHING to cook with). We subbed out the milk for some half and half and veggie stock. and because the turkey stock was frozen, we made a roux to add to it after it had melted, instead of putting the flour directly into the pan with the veggies.
I’ll admit, Rick actually did all the cooking here, and my main contribution was getting-in-the-way-to-take-pictures, and stealing bits of grated cheese off the cutting board. But he graciously wrote out the recipe for me, and here it is: a soup guaranteed to be filling and sweet and creamy and decadent. A perfect starter for a salty roast and a crisp green salad or a perfect meal all on its own, this soup is guaranteed to satisfy.
…especially when the sunchokes we kept start to sprout, and we can plant them in the back yard. Soup, anyone?
Sunchoke Chowder
makes 12-14c soup; serves 6-10

4 Tbsp butter
5 Tbsp all-purpose flour
1/2 large yellow onion, diced
2 lbs sunchokes, cleaned thoroughly (but not peeled), and cut into pieces
3 large carrots, cut into rounds
2 c turkey stock
1 c vegetable stock
3/4 cups half + half
1 1/2 c shredded cheese (sharp cheddar and smoked gouda)
1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
Salt and pepper, to taste
1 sunchoke, peeled and julienned
1 carrot, matchsticked
1/2 large leek (I used the green parts and kept the blanched heart for a quiche tomorrow), julienned
chervil leaves (or flat leaf parsley), chopped
Thoroughly clean the sunchokes to make sure there is no grit or dirt in the crevices. Cut out any bad buts, and slice them into rounds about 1/2 inch rounds. If you are not going to cook with them right away, keep them in a bowl of cold water to prevent browning.
Peel and dice the onion, and sweat it until translucent in 2 tbs of butter in a large stock pot or deep sautee pan (I used my paella pan). Add the carrots and sunchokes, and 2c of stock (any kind). Cook for about 30 minutes, or until the sunchokes are soft, but not disintegrating.

In a separate pan, make a roux with 5 Tbsp of flour and 2 Tbsp of butter. Cook until the flour is barely beginning to brown, and then whisk in the other cup of stock. Keep whisking until all of the lumps are dissolved. Mix this into the pan with the stock and veggies until combined, and bring to a low simmer to thicken.
In the meantime, julienne the garnish ingredients (leek, carrot, sunchoke – you should have about 2 c of mass all together when they’re chopped). Blanch these for about a minute in boiling water and then immediately transfer them into a cold water bath to stop the cooking process. Drain, and set aside. Rinse and chop the chervil/parsley, and set that aside too.

In small batches, run the (now tender) veggies and stock through a food processor, blender, or use an immersion blender. Process until the soup is completely smooth (you may see little flecks of skin from the sunchokes – that’s OK), and transfer it all back into the pan. Add the cream and cheese, and mustard powder, and stir to combine. Bring the soup back to heat, but do not let it boil. Once the cheese is fully melted, taste for salt/pepper, and serve hot.

Garnish each bowl with a small bunch of julienned veggies and a dusting of chopped chervil, and serve with a few toasty pieces of whole grain baguette.

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