The denizens of Exeter are lucky enough to have an excellent food shopping street – Magdalen Road. It’s a five minute walk from where I live and I particularly enjoy popping in to the Grocer on the Green to chat with Dan, who sells a carefully curated selection of fruit and veg.
On my last visit I couldn’t resist snapping up some beautiful pink Jerusalem artichokes. This is a vegetable with something of a reputation. If you’re a gardener, it’s a terror, engulfing flowerbeds. If you’re a cook, the tubers can be so knobbly they’re impossible to peel. (These weren’t – they were no worse than potatoes.) And then there’s the famous after-effect – what is politely described in the United States as gas. It's caused by a soluble fibre called inulin, which can be broken down by boiling in lemon juice, or mitigated (according to some) by the addition of spices such as caraway or fennel. On the other hand, we live in an age of gut health, so I hope it’s worth living with the consequences for an occasional indulgence.
This cream of Jerusalem artichoke soup is my favourite soup in the world. If you have an old-fashioned blender, it will turn it unbelievably smooth and creamy, though a processor will also do a good job. The flavour is subtle, so be sure to season generously.
I learnt the trick of adding a copious amount of sherry from John Tovey, of Miller Howe fame. Do not skimp on this – you will thank me.
In the picture you will see that I finished the soup with toasted cheese, made by simply toasting and buttering a slice of bread, heaping with grated cheddar (or Gruyère if you’ve got it), floating it on top of the soup and flashing under the grill for 3-4 minutes.
Prepare 40 minutes (can be made a day ahead and finished at the last minute)
1 onion, sliced thinly
1 medium potato (about 150g), peeled and sliced thinly
500g Jerusalem artichokes, peeled and sliced thinly
Pinch of sugar
500ml chicken or vegetable stock
2 bay leaves
about 100ml milk
4 tbsp double cream
100-150ml dry or medium sherry
Squeeze of lemon juice (optional)
1. In a large lidded pan, melt the butter, stir in the vegetables and season well with salt, pepper and a pinch of sugar. Cover with a piece of baking paper and the lid, and sweat for 15 minutes, adjusting heat so that the vegetables are gently sizzling without browning. The potato is inclined to catch, so stir often.
2. When the vegetables are soft, discard the baking paper, add the stock and bay leaves, stir well and simmer gently for 10 minutes. Remove bay leaves then liquidise or process the mixture until totally smooth. At this point, I usually transfer the soup base to a bowl and refrigerate, to finish the next day, but if more convenient, you can continue.
3. Return the mixture to a pan – it will be thick. Add enough milk to loosen and bring to a simmer. When ready to serve, stir in the cream, then the sherry, check seasoning and if necessary brighten with a squeeze of lemon juice. Serve piping hot.