It takes a really dedicated soul to make it to the farmers’ market these days. It’s not so much the cold – though it does take a kind of Spartan determination to be a greenmarket regular in winter months – it’s more the duration of the winter we’ve been dealt this year. The cold doesn’t seem to let up, and my hat, scarf and mittens are my constant and faithful companions.
Still, despite the blustery winds and the numbing morning chill, I go faithfully every Saturday, bundled up, with my reusable grocery bags in tow. I go partly because it’s a habit now, and partly because I like to support local farmers. It kicks off my weekend and it’s now part of my Saturday morning tradition.
On my way back, my bags are heavy with produce, my mind at work on what I will cook. This month, while my heart is dreaming of delicate little salad greens, rhubarb, and asparagus, my stomach is requesting soups and stews.
We’re still in that tenuous time when the greenmarket offers relatively little in ways of produce. There are various root vegetables, like the parsnips I picked up a few weeks back; potatoes – hearty and covered in dirt; cold storage apples – well past their autumn glory; and various bulbs: onions, shallots, garlic. I get these and few others each week and it’s kind of amazing what this simple assortment is capable of providing.
Last Saturday, while I was replenishing my dwindling garlic and onion supply (you have no idea how quickly these disappear in my kitchen!) I spied sunchokes in a corner bin.
Fitting with the humble winter produce look, these tubers are not stunners. On the outside, they look like hunks of ginger, with knobs and twists. Also known as Jerusalem artichokes (though they are neither from Jerusalem nor artichokes) sunchokes are the tubers of the sunflower plant, and are, in fact, native to North America. When cooked, they fall apart and their texture resembles that of potatoes. It is precisely for that quality that makes sunchokes such great candidates for soup.
Here was a simple, but elegant affair – sunchokes simmering in a garlic-and-thyme-infused broth along with a generous helping of olive oil, until soft and falling apart. A quick whir of my immersion blender brought the lumpy mess into silky, creamy, fragrant goodness. I could’ve served it as is – it was soothing, warming and comforting – just what the weather ordered; but I wanted a bit of a backbone out of my soup, so I added a few spoonfuls of lemon juice, grated some parmesan cheese on top, and drizzled my finest olive oil to finish it off. I had some caramelized onions lying around – and I thought them to be the perfect topping. Finally, having arranged my soup just the way that I wanted, I grabbed my bowl and hungrily gobbled it up.
It was a perfect Sunday night dinner – one that would fortify us through the elements of the outgoing fickle March and incoming unpredictable April. Perhaps this upcoming weekend I will spy a sign of spring at the market – a spring onion, maybe?
And if not, I have this soup to turn to – with a warm, fragrant bowl my hands, it’ll carry me nicely into sunny spring days, when I can finally ditch my mittens, scarf, and hat and head out to the greenmarket in something decidedly lighter – a sundress would do just fine.
Inspired by Jenniewho told me to consider sunchokes for a soup, and I took it from there – so thanks to Jennie for such a brilliant idea!
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon fresh thyme, plus more for garnish
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
1 1/2 pounds sunchokes
3-4 cups vegetable stock
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
Freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano (optional)
Caramelized onions for garnish (optional)
1. In a medium pot, over medium heat, warm 2 tablespoons of the olive oil until shimmering. Add the garlic and thyme and cook, stirring, for 1 minute.
2. Add the sunchokes, stock, the rest of the olive oil, salt, and nutmeg. Bring to a simmer, cover, reduce heat to low and cook for an hour, until sunchokes are soft and are practically falling apart. If some of the tubers refuse to fall apart, cut them into smaller chunks with a knife.
3. With an immersion blender, puree the soup until smooth. Stir in lemon juice. Ladle into bowls and serve with caramelized onions, Parmigiano-Reggiano, and thyme. If you like, add a drizzle of olive oil as well.