All Photos: Wendy Goodfriend
I first had a soup very similar to this on a blustery New Year’s Eve at a cozy little gastropub in the Bermondsey district of London. Even though this was years ago, I distinctly remember the silky texture of the soup, with the gentle earthy flavor of the Jerusalem artichokes. I returned home, determined to seek out these vegetables, which I’d never really heard of before, and re-create the soup.
The Jerusalem artichoke, also commonly called a sunchoke, is neither from Jerusalem nor is it a type of artichoke. In fact, it has no relation whatsoever to either. It is a tuber, a lovely little root vegetable, that is a type of sunflower. Like other tubers, they must be cooked, but can be roasted, boiled, or fried into thin crisps. I particularly like them pureed, as they have an incredibly silky texture. I always peel them, but try to choose less nubbly ones if you can, as they can be a real pain to peel otherwise.
Anyway, a year or two passed, and one Christmas I decided to try to re-create the soup. I found a recipe from one of my favorite British chefs and authors, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, tried it out, and it took me right back to that blustery night. The soup is topped with a heavenly “pesto” that is made with cooked chestnuts, lemon, and parsley. And while the soup can certainly be served on it’s own (or drizzled with truffle oil like it was on that NYE in London so long ago), you would be remiss not to serve it with the pesto.
Over the years, I’ve adapted and changed and morphed the recipe into what I use today; and I make it and update it nearly every year. But the general premise stays the same: silky creamy pureed soup with a dollop of lemony pesto on top. This is great as a starter, which is how I serve it for Christmas dinner, but it can also be served as an elegant winter lunch (hence the range of servings). Be sure to make extra pesto and dollop it on some freshly cooked pasta or just eat it by the spoonful out of the jar.
Jerusalem Artichoke (Sunchoke) Soup with Chestnut-Parsley-Lemon Pesto
For the pesto
- 4 1/2 oz cooked and peeled chestnuts (I use pre-cooked vacuum-packed chestnuts)
- 3 oz aged (hard) goat's cheese, grated
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1 packed cup chopped fresh flat-leaf Italian parsley leaves
- Zest and juice of 1 large Meyer lemon
- About 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
For the soup
- To make the pesto, put the chestnuts, cheese, a big pinch of salt, and a few grindings of pepper into the bowl of a food processor and pulse about 6 times until it looks like very coarse bread crumbs. Add the parsley, lemon zest and juice and pulse a few times. With the machine on, slowly add the oil until the pesto is the consistency you like. Taste and adjust the seasoning if needed, then spoon the pesto into an airtight container. Pour a little oil over the top, cover, and refrigerate for up to 2 weeks.