In France, the sunchoke has a storied history. During World War II, it was one of the only vegetables available to eat. It took years for people to get over their bad memories of that difficult time, and for sunchokes to become popular again. When I was young, they were mostly cultivated to feed animals. It wasn't until I came to America that I began to appreciate them for their earthy, nutty taste.
The sunchoke is also known as the Jerusalem artichoke—misleadingly, because it's not an artichoke and it's not from Jerusalem. A relative of the sunflower, it was a staple of Native Americans, particularly in Canada. It was brought to Europe in 1613 by a visiting tribe of Brazilian Indians, and it's thought that its name is a distortion of girasole, the Italian word for sunflower. It resembles ginger and has a unique flavor that evokes both mushrooms and chestnuts.
This sunchoke soup is a celebration of autumn. Roasted Gala apples bring out the sunchoke's sweetness. (Any other firm-fleshed apples that can stand up to high temperatures will do.) Rosemary oil adds some bright color and an herbaceous quality. The soup makes an excellent starter for dinner, perhaps as a prelude to a cured meat like ham. It can also stand on its own for a light lunch—serve it with good, crusty bread, toasted and spread with sweet butter.
SUNCHOKE SOUP WITH APPLES, HAZELNUTS, AND ROSEMARY OIL
Makes 6 servings
1 cup grapeseed oil
5 sprigs fresh rosemary, leaves only
½ cup packed fresh spinach
3½ T unsalted butter
1 small yellow onion, thinly sliced
1 small leek, white part only, thinly sliced
1 celery stalk, thinly sliced
3 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
Bouquet garni (2 sprigs rosemary, 2 sprigs thyme, and 1 bay leaf, tied with a leek green or butcher's twine)
Salt and freshly ground white pepper
¼ cup dry vermouth
3 Gala apples—1 peeled, cored, and chopped, 2 halved and cored
3 lbs. sunchokes, scrubbed with a towel and rinsed well*—2 lbs. coarsely chopped, 1 lb. peeled and left whole
8 cups vegetable stock or water
½ cup heavy cream
½ cup hazelnuts, toasted and halved
Sweet Gala apples. The cutting board is by Jayson Home, and the paring knife is by Messermeister.
Preheat the oven to 400°F.
In a small saucepan set over medium heat, warm the grapeseed oil. Add the rosemary and spinach and let it infuse over the heat for 1 minute. Transfer the oil to a blender and puree on low, increasing the speed slowly, until it becomes green. Strain the oil through a fine sieve or coffee filter into a plastic container (it may take up to 10 minutes for the oil to pass through). Set it aside in the refrigerator while you prepare the soup.
In a medium stockpot, melt 3 tablespoons of butter over medium heat. Add the onion, leek, celery, garlic, bouquet garni, and a generous sprinkling of salt and freshly ground white pepper. Sauté, stirring periodically, for about 10 minutes, until softened. Add the vermouth and let it reduce completely, then add the chopped apple and chopped sunchokes. Continue to sauté for another 10 minutes, then add the stock or water. Bring to a simmer and cook until the sunchokes yield easily when pressed with the tines of a fork, about 30 minutes.
A bouquet garni of fresh herbs.
While the soup is simmering, season the whole sunchokes and two halved apples with salt and wrap in aluminum foil with the remaining ½ tablespoon of butter. Bake for about 20 minutes, or until the sunchokes are cooked through and can be easily pierced with the tip of a knife. Set aside to cool. When cool enough to handle, cut the sunchokes and apples into 1-inch pieces and keep warm.
Remove the bouquet garni and puree the soup with a handheld immersion blender until smooth. Alternatively, let the soup cool slightly and transfer to a blender; puree until smooth and return it to the pot. Stir in the heavy cream, and season to taste.
To serve, ladle the soup into warm bowls and top with the roasted pieces of sunchoke and apple. Sprinkle with the hazelnuts and drizzle with the rosemary oil. (Store the remaining rosemary oil in the refrigerator; it makes a great finishing touch for salads and steaks.)
*Sunchokes grow underground, so they often have traces of dirt in the crevices. If yours are particularly knobby, make sure to scrub in between the grooves to remove all of the dirt. An old toothbrush works well.
WHAT TO DRINK
The glass is by Riedel, and the tea towel is by Studiopatró.
"This soup evokes fall, which always make me think of ciders and strong beers," says Raj Vaidya, head sommelier at Daniel restaurant. "Eric Bordelet, former sommelier at the famed Parisian restaurant Arpege, makes one of my favorite ciders. His Sidre Tendre [$11] has notes of pear and apple, a nuttiness to match the soup's hazelnuts." As an alternative, Vaidya suggests a beer made by Trappist monks at France's Orval abbey ($6). "It's a funky, spicy ale, with a lovely sour finish to balance out the sweet earthiness of the root vegetables."
This story originally appeared in the October 2016 issue of ELLE DECOR.