Roasted Sunchoke Soup with hazelnut oil and pumpkin seeds
Whenever I mention sunchokes, my friend Ariel inevitably brings up the sunchoke soup we both enjoyed as part of a benefit dinner three years ago. It was sinfully creamy with a robust nutty flavor and came indulgently topped with Dungeness crab. It was a soup I was scared to recreate for fear of tainting the fond memories of it.
Also I knew my at-home version would be pale in comparison as I just cannot add as much cream and butter as I’m sure would be necessary to fully capture the flavor of the original. These are why some dishes just taste better if you don’t make them yourself!
But when sunchoke season rolled around this year, I still felt the urge to make a soup. For my wallet’s sake, I eschewed the crab altogether and for the sake of my waistline I used half and half instead of cream. But happily for my belly, this soup was still outstanding and totally hit the spot on a blustery fall day.
Sunchokes, if you’re unfamiliar with them, are rhizomes that resemble gingeroot. They are knobby and fairly unattractive as far as produce goes. However, their unassuming appearance belies their deliciousness. They are sweet when roasted and inherently nutty in flavor. I cannot get enough of them, even overlooking their, well…troublesome nature.
To make this soup, I started with this recipe, changing things up slightly. The main change I made was roasting half of the sunchokes in the oven until they were caramelized. This gives the flavor of the soup some extra depth.
How can something so potentially evil look so innocent?
A couple of weeks ago, I pulled up my sunchoke plant and was greeted with a lovely harvest of the knobby root vegetables. Even though I had been looking forward to that moment all summer, suddenly I felt bewildered. What should I do with them? I haven’t cooked sunchokes in years. So I turned to Google.
Which dropped me down a rabbit hole I had not at all expected — an online journey featuring flatulence and intestinal distress. What I discovered was something I had thankfully been totally unaware of all my sunchoke-eating life. Apparently about 50 percent of people have painful digestive issues fueled by sunchokes — to the point that some of the comments on the recipes I was researching made me cringe. Commenters on some sites cried out that every recipe should come with a written warning that these unassuming tubers could wreck severe havoc on unsuspecting eaters. I was floored.
Some people were so intense that even though I was 99 percent confident in my ability to enjoy sunchokes with no ill effects, I actually became a bit anxious. What if all the times I had eaten them were flukes? What if this time I was part of the wrong half of the population? How would I survive an 8-hour day in a small office with that type of reaction? Finally I set my nerves aside, picked up my knife and got cooking.
I have never been successful in growing things that I can actually eat. My rather large strawberry patch produced one puny berry this year and in consecutive years, my husband and I killed three rosemary bushes. But my luck has changed!
This spring, a friend gave me a sunchoke plant. I was apprehensive but optimistic.
I love sunchokes and was very excited at the prospect of being able to grow my own. The best thing about these plants is that they are regenerative. Just leave some in the dirt and the next spring, another plant will grow.
At any rate — my plant took off and grew like crazy, towering over our 8-foot tall fence. I was so proud!
Once the sunflower-like flowers died, it was time to pull the plant up and see what it produced. Here’s what I found nestled in the ground: