Monday, September 20, 2010

Ten Days of CSA: Day 10, Sunchoke and Celery Root Soup

Sorry I'm late. Again. Life gets busy, you know? And our CSA share this week was not terribly overwhelming, so we felt quite alright dining out a few times over the weekend. And then Charlotte, our lovely visitor, made us Carrot Soup and Seeded Soda Bread and Brown Butter Shortbread, all of which, by the way, were utterly and absolutely lick-smacking delicious. And so, basically, I wasn't in the kitchen quite as much this weekend as I usually am.

But I did make another soup. And I wasn't sure if another soup was worth posting about, especially after the Cauliflower Bisque, which I didn't want to compete with, intentionally or otherwise. Yet, on the other hand, I had a bunch of dirty, fall root vegetables and all that vegetable broth to use up before we catch a plane in less than 48 hours, so I just ignored my insecurities, went for it, and am grateful that I did.

About those dirty fall root vegetables...

Two years ago, for the first time, we got sunchokes, alternatively known as Jerusalem artichokes, in our CSA box. I did not know what they were. I did not know how to clean them, prepare them, or store them. They went bad quickly on our counter, where I'd left them as I would a potato or other root vegetable, and so I threw them out.


The following summer, we received them again. But this time, they weren't just a one-off and we actually received them several weeks in a row. Also, I had just had a baby and my mother was spending a few weeks with us, and she found it quite exciting that we received vegetables that she'd never seen or heard of before, and took it upon herself to do some research. She thought ginger or turmeric at first, but then, on some website about "tubers" found photos like the one above and solved the mystery. Sunchokes! Also known as Jerusalem artichokes, I suspect because they taste faintly of artichoke, and perhaps are related. They are good cooked up any way that you'd cook a potato. Roasted, boiled, mashed, and, of course, pureed into a soup with leeks. (I'm also convinced - though I haven't tried it - that they'd make an excellent pureed, warm cheesy dip, like regular artichoke dip.) Since August 2009, we've never not eaten our sunchokes. They're good, and interesting, and you just need to give them a good scrub to clean them - no need to remove peel - and they store best in a plastic bag in the refrigerator, like a carrot rather than a potato.

Next on our list of dirties is celery root (a.k.a. celeriac - a word I don't care for). This vegetable was tricky for me because, like kohlrabi, if you slice off the peel you are left with far less flesh than seems worth cooking. But, also like kohlrabi, if you carefully, patiently use a vegetable peeler, you end up with a lot more vegetable left at the end, and celery root is indeed worth cooking. It's like celery, but more satisfying and less stringy.

celery root

So, using little more than these bad boys and a bunch of onion/garlic types, a pretty awesome soup can be crafted. I looked to David Lebovitz for some initial guidance - and I learned that, at least in pureed soups, slicing garlic is best because it results in nicer, more even cooking (as opposed to those little brown bits of minced garlic that develop after about 2 minutes over a medium flame) and thus better flavor and aroma - but I ultimately ended up making my own thing. The soup was healthy, low-cal, used up a lot of vegetables, but didn't produce a daunting amount of soup, which can happen easily in a household of two (plus our little mini girl, who doesn't eat soup v. well yet). Most importantly - and I sure hope this is a given to you all since I wouldn't bother posting it otherwise - it's v. tasty. The ingredients I used are all interesting and intense, and combining them resulted in something perfect for a dreary fall evening, and even better for lunch on the following dreary fall afternoon.

If you manage to get your hands on sunchokes and celery root, I hope you'll try it.

celery soup collage

cuppa soup

Sunchoke and Celery Root Soup
From yours truly
Yield: 4 servings

2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cups chopped onions, shallots, and/or leeks (I used one large onion + one small leek = 2 cups)
4 celery ribs, diced
4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1/2 teaspoon ground fennel seed
1-2 celery roots, peeled and cut into 1" cubes (about 2 cups)
3 handfuls sunchokes, scrubbed clean and chopped into 1" pieces (about 2 cups)
4 cups vegetable stock
1 cup water (or more, as you see fit)

Cream or crème fraiche, coarse salt, freshly ground pepper, and nutmeg or paprika, for serving

In a stockpot or dutch oven, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the onion mixture and diced celery, with a generous pinch or two of salt, and cook, stirring occasionally, for about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and ground fennel seed, lower heat a bit, and cook for 2 minutes, until garlic is super fragrant. Add the celery root, sunchokes, vegetable stock, and water. Bring to boil, then lower heat and simmer, with lid ajar, until the vegetables are quite soft, about 40 minutes. Once the vegetables are soft, allow the soup to cool for a few minutes and then puree all or a portion of the soup, whatever you prefer, using an immersion blender or a regular blender. Taste and adjust seasonings to suit your liking. Serve immediately, drizzling 1 tablespoon of heavy whipping cream or crème fraiche into each cup or bowl, and sprinkling coarse salt, pepper, and paprika or nutmeg on top. Enjoy with some dense, crusty bread - like the seedy soda bread Charlotte made last night.

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