There are some vegetables that I love so much, and are just so hard to find in Rome, that I buy them whenever I see them. Even if I don’t really know what I’ll end up doing with them. Fresh beets are one. And jerusalem artichokes are another. I guess they just aren’t that popular in Italy. And in fact, a lot of Italians don’t even know the names of these two: barba bietola and topinambur.
We’ve grown both vegetables in our garden in Todi, and very successfully I might add. Beets take a bit of work, but jerusalem artichokes are actually quite invasive and will take over your garden if you’re not careful. Which I think is pretty great. But they must be susceptible to something, because for some reason they died out a couple of years ago.
Which made me so happy to see them the other day in the market in Testaccio. Maybe you’ve seen them too, but weren’t quite sure what to do with these weird looking tubers? They are strange. In fact, I can’t quite decide if they are gorgeous, or ugly. I think that Italian word bruttina sums them up: a bit ugly and a bit cute.
I admit, they are a pain to clean. You have to peel them, but all the nubbly bits get in the way. And once you have them clean, you have to dump them in water so they don’t go brown.
Why do I love them? The taste, of course. They do taste a bit like artichokes, but nuttier and sweeter at the same time.
My go-to recipe is to slightly steam them, then place them in a shallow pan with a bit of bechamel and a sprinkling of parmigiano, before popping them in the oven. But I still had a quart of rich turkey broth in the freezer, so I thought I’d try soup this time around.
It’s not a sexy looking soup by any means. The color is sort of beige, which is always hard to get excited about. The drizzle of balsamic added a bit of drama. The taste, however, was just what I was looking for. The potato was there to add a bit of thickness, and the leeks added just enough depth. But what really came through were the jerusalem artichokes themselves: nutty and sweet, with a silk-like texture.
Jerusalem Artichoke Soup
1 pound Jerusalem Artichokes (also called sunchokes)
3 large leeks
1 large potato
2 Tablespoons butter
1 Tablespoon olive oil
6-8 cups rich turkey or chicken broth
Real, thick balsamic.
Peel the jerusalem artichokes with a vegetable peeler, then cut into large chunks. Do the same with the potato, putting both in water to keep from turning brown.
Slice leeks (white part only) , making sure to get the grit out.
Heat oil and butter in big pot, add leeks and let cook until wilted (about 15 minutes)
Add cut up artichokes and potato. Stir, adding salt and pepper. Add broth and bring to a simmer. Let simmer, covered, until artichokes are quite tender, about 1/2 hour.
Take off heat and pure’ with immersible blender.
To serve, ladle into bowls and swirl a bit of balsamic on top (thick kind, not supermarket thin kind).