Sunday, March 11, 2012

Sunchoke Soup with Bergamot Oil and Parmesan Cream

I am sure that spring is on the way.  It simply must be at this point!  Folks are complaining of allergies...chickens are laying eggs like the little egg-makers they are...cute fuzzy things are being born...  In spite of this affirmation, I am challenged, as you are, to find even more interesting and creative ways to use produce that is at it's peak as winter draws to a close.  Everyone always comments that winter is the worst season for fresh produce, but I think it has to be early spring that is the hardest.  The stores from the fall harvest have run out, every last root vegetable has been dug, and though the seedlings are sprouting in every greenhouse around, it seems that they cannot grow fast enough to satisfy my desire for something fresh, new, and vibrant.  By the time summer rolls around, I will be completely exhausted of wild arugula salads and pea shoots, but for now they invade my thoughts and I swear I wake in the morning with the taste of them on my tongue.

Today, I may have found a temporary antidote to my winter produce blues.  We went this afternoon to visit a new friend and fellow farmer/cook Lori Deacon over at her lovely Cape E Farm & Vineyard in Home out on the Key Peninsula.  She very generously shared her recent harvest of sunchokes, so I had to figure out something do do with them right quick!  Sunchokes are fun little tubers that spread kind of like potatoes, but have tall stalks (up to10 feet) topped with mini sunflower blooms.  They make a great backdrop in the garden and produce copious amounts of chokes with a myriad of uses.

Sunchoke Soup
yield: 4-6 servings

2 T unsalted butter
1 shallot, roughly chopped
1 quart peeled sunchokes, kept in acidulated water
clear vegetable or chicken stock to cover (about 4 cups, with some extra kept in reserve)
1 bay leaf
1 sprig thyme
1/4 c heavy cream
salt and white pepper to taste

In a medium sauce pan, melt the butter over medium heat.  Add the shallot and saute briefly.  Drain the sunchokes and add to the pan.  Saute for a few minutes, then add herbs and stock to cover.  Simmer gently until the shallots and the chokes are very tender (30-40 minutes, but will vary depending on the size of your chokes).  Once they are tender, remove the herbs, and puree completely, adding extra stock as needed.  Return to a clean saucepan, heat, add the cream and season to taste.

To garnish this simple, delicately flavored soup, you can use your imagination.  This time, I used a bit of olive oil infused with bergamot and then topped it all with a bit of cream that was scented with a parmesan rind.  To do this, simmer the cream with the parmesan until the flavor has been infused.  Transfer to the refrigerator and chill completely, then remove the rind and whip as you would any cream.  Keep in mind that with the added salt, the cream will look curdled very quickly after it begins to thicken.  Alternatively, you could garnish with truffle oil, bits of fried prosciutto...really, whatever suits you palate.  It's kind of a blank slate!

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