The reason the croutons in this photograph are in the shape of twee little hearts is because I just love this recipe: it's one of the best soups I've ever tasted. The recipe comes from Simon Hopkinson's book Roast Chicken and Other Stories*, and includes poached scallops, but as Johannesburg is hardly the epicentre of scallop production I had to make do without. And oh, my goodness, it is good: creamy, earthy, slightly nutty, with a mere whisper of thyme.
My friend Julia gave me a whole bag of these beautiful Jerusalem artichokes, which she grew from a few tubers given to her by someone at a farmer's market. These aren't easy to find, but greengrocers here in Johannesburg occasionally stock them.
These veggies are the very devil to peel, but you do need to peel them well to prevent your soup being freckled with brown bits. A very sharp, short-bladed paring knife and loud music is the way to go.
I added a peeled potato to this recipe (oh me of little faith; I thought there was too much liquid to too few artichokes) , but I needn't have, because the milk reduces as the artichokes cook. Still, I've kept the potato in this recipe. Do use a good home-made chicken stock.
Jerusalem Artichoke Soup
50 g butter (about 3 T; 45 ml)
1 large onion, peeled and finely chopped
300 ml good chicken stock
1 bay leaf
1 sprig of thyme
400 ml milk
220 g Jerusalem artichokes, peeled and chopped
1 medium potato, peeled and chopped
salt and milled black pepper
100 ml cream
a handful of chopped fresh parsley
Heat the butter in a saucepan and add the chopped onions. Cook, over a medium heat, until soft, but don't allow them to brown. Add the chicken stock, bay leaf and thyme, cover and cook gently for 10 minutes. Now add the milk, the artichokes and the potato, season with salt and pepper and simmer until the artichoke and potato pieces are very soft. 'You may find that the liquid has a messy separated look about it, but once it has been liquidised... it will all come back together,' says Hopkinson.
Fish out the bay leaf and thyme and use a stick blender or liquidiser to purée the soup. Strain back into the pot and stir in the cream and parsley. Serve hot, with croutons.
* This book, co-written with Lindsey Bareham,was voted the most useful cookery book of all time, and it's not difficult to see why. The sequel is just as good.
* Hopkinson says he first saw this recipe in The Four Seasons Cookbook by Margaret Costa