Happy New Year! I hope everyone's year is off to a wonderful start.
Last year, I had the pleasure of celebrating New Year's with my dear friends Sylvia and Winston up in Boston. Each year, they host a spectacular dinner party for twenty or so friends. It's an elegant affair with hors d'oeuvres, cocktails, champagne, and a long, multi-course meal.
Visiting from out of town (and taking over their guest room, thank you!), I earned my keep by pitching in wherever and however I could for each course—chopping, cleaning, baking, seasoning, slicing. And, one course—the amuse bouche—was mine alone.
I decided to make a sippable soup to kick off the meal and wake up the palate. It was a sunchoke cloud soup with a surprise chestnut purée underneath.
Sunchokes are among the most underappreciated vegetables. But once I found them at a farmers market in France (where they’re called by a much more beautiful name—topinambour), they immediately became one of my favorites. They taste like a cross between an artichoke and a potato, but they are actually tubers of sunflowers native to eastern North America.
I admit, sunchokes aren't the prettiest to look at, but they taste sublime—earthy , nutty, a little sweet—and they can stand in for a potato in any place or preparation. They're not only delicious, they're healthy. Sunchokes are full of nutrients like calcium, potassium, vitamins C and B6, iron, and folate. It's worth the effort to find and explore this healthy, delicious ingredient.
For the soup, I sweated some sunchokes and shallots in butter, simmered them until they were falling-apart-tender, then puréed them with a little of their cooking liquid and a kiss of cream.
For the chestnut purée, I sautéed some chestnuts in olive oil, simmered them with stock, and finished them with a little crème fraîche. The best part of making this dish is flambéing the chestnuts with cognac. It turns out it is still so much fun to play with fire (but please be careful!).
To put the dish together, I spooned a little chestnut purée into the bottom of a small bowl. Then I used a cream whipper to create clouds of light and fluffy sunchoke on top. A cream whipper is totally unnecessary, again just fun. If you have one of these whimsical kitchen tools, it's a great time to use it. If you're looking for a new kitchen toy, you might want to get one because it brings a little restaurant into your home kitchen. Anyway, you can simply pour the soup on top of the chestnut purée and it will be just as good.
To finish, I like to add a little dusting of porcini powder. To be really decadent and festive, I like to add a few drops of truffle oil or a few shavings of a Périgord black truffle (it's New Years, after all!).
I wish you all much peace and joy in the coming year.
Sunchoke Cloud Soup with Chestnut Purée
(Adapted from the Eleven Madison Park cookbook)
225 g cooked chestnuts
60 g cognac
240 ml beef stock
80 g crème fraîch
Pinch of sugar
1. Heat a little olive oil in a large sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add the chestnuts and toast until dark brown and fragrant, about 5 minutes.
2. Remove the pan from the heat, add the cognac and flambé. Return to heat and cook until nearly dry.
3. Add the stock, bring to a simmer and cook, covered (with the lid cracked), until very tender.
4. Purée the chestnuts in a blender with the cooking liquid and the crème fraiche. Season with salt.
Sunchoke Cloud Soup:
1 TB butter
1 shallot, sliced
500 g sunchokes, peeled, sliced
150 ml cream
1. Melt the butter in a large saucepan. Sweat the shallots and sunchokes briefly.
2. Add water to cover. Bring to a boil then simmer until the sunchokes are tender.
3. Purée the sunchokes in a blender with some of their cooking liquid and the cream. Season with salt and pepper. (Fill and charge a cream whipper if you’re using one and keep it warm.)
Place a generous spoonful of purée in the bottom of a small bowl or cup. Top with the sunchoke soup using a cream whipper if you have one or a spoon if you don’t. Drizzle with a tiny drop of truffle oil if the occasion calls for it.