It's hard to write about sunchokes without mentioning two things: the name is confusing, and they can cause embarrassing gas. So let's get those two topics out of the way. First of all, sunchokes are also known as Jerusalem artichokes. They are neither from Jerusalem (they are native to the Northeastern United States), nor are they artichokes. They are actually tubers of a sunflower-like plant. "Sunflower" is girasole in Italian (look toward the sun) and, well, girasole sounds a bit like Jerusalem. Try it out loud.
As for the gas issue, it's no joke. I wouldn't be the first person to say there's a third name for this root vegetable, and it's fartichoke. Some people believe that cooking them, rather than serving them raw, like in a salad, helps decrease the unfortunate side-effect. I also think diluting them with another root vegetable is a fine solution.
Here is a very simple soup that will come together in about 30 minutes. The combination of sunchokes and potatoes gives a very earthy and nutty flavor that I find very comforting in the winter. This week I had the soup with chili flakes and chili oil in a effort to scare away my lingering flu. It might have worked. In the recipe, I give a variety of topping options that can take this relatively blank slate and turn it into something quite unique.
Reporting from the front lines, I'll say that I didn't experience the usual, ahem — discomforts — associated with the fartichoke. I ate it as a small side soup with a few meals and I'm thinking moderation might just be the key.
Sunchoke and Garlic Soup
1/4 cup fruity olive oil
1 pound sunchokes (also called Jerusalem artichokes), scrubbed and chopped
2 small waxy potatoes (such as Yukon Gold, red or new potatoes), scrubbed and chopped
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
3-5 cloves garlic, chopped
Pinch dried red chili flakes
6 cups water, vegetable stock, or chicken stock
2 bay leaves
For a sweeter flavor profile: a dash of nutmeg and drizzle of olive oil
For a spicier flavor profile: a drizzle of chili oil and or a pinch of dried chili flakes
For a hearty topping: bread crumbs and a few grates of Parmesan cheese
For a fresh topping: chopped arugula or baby kale
Heat the oil in a large soup pot over high. Add the sunchokes, potatoes, and onion. Sauté about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the garlic and optional chili flakes, and continue cooking until the vegetables are lightly browned. Add the water or stock, the bay leaves, and 1 teaspoon salt. Bring the mixture to a boil then lower the heat to low. When soup settles into a simmer, cover and cook until the potatoes and sunchokes are tender, 20 to 30 minutes.
Remove the bay leaves and then process the soup either with an immersion blender, or in a blender in small batches (filling no more than a third of the container), until smooth. Check for seasoning. Add salt and pepper, as desired.