potato-sunchoke soup with homemade chile oil

The inspiration for our meals comes from a thousand different places. Sometimes it’s from stopping by the farmstand and seeing fat green leeks sticking up from black buckets like an awkward floral display. Sometimes it’s from our friends’ cookbooks and blogs — ooh, that looks good. Often food arrives on the table because we needed something for the kid fast. That’s why we’re working on stocking our pantry well these days, so we always have interesting ingredients to throw together.

Sometimes, however, our best dishes come from the food we cannot eat.

We have a recipe in our cookbook for a blue cheese cheesecake with a fig crust. (It’s really good, that one.) The only reason it exists is because Danny and I were in Vancouver, doing a weekend event for my first book, and we ate at a great little restaurant called Salt Tasting Room. There were curlicues of good prosciutto and choices of local cheese that made it difficult to decide what to eat, chutneys and pickles and interesting twists. We ate well. All the dessert options, however, had gluten in them. Mostly, I wanted the blue cheese cheesecake.

So we went home and made it, used the fig cookies from my first book as the crust, and took a bite. “Book. That’s going in the book,” we both said.

A little deprivation helps sometimes.

In December, we were at Palace Kitchen, one of our favorite restaurants in Seattle. We don’t go out for dinner often these days. In fact, almost not at all. We live on an island where the best restaurant is the one where Danny cooks. Evenings in Seattle are spent at friends’ houses, but mostly we’re on the road for the ferry with Lu’s eyes growing droopy as we drive. A night out is a rare celebration.

(My goodness, life has changed in the last three years!)

We were eating dinner after a big cookbook event, along with friends Amy Pennington and Lara Ferroni, whose books had been selling fast.. We were happy to be together, laughing and relaxing after being on all evening. Danny and I enjoyed our applewood-smoked chicken and pork chop. Lu ate everything when she wasn’t giggling with Amy. However, I noticed Lara’s silence most. She dipped her spoon into her potato-sunchoke soup slowly, savoring each taste. When she did talk, she pointed to the chile oil quivering on top of the soup. I’ve never seen anyone enjoy soup so much.

Danny and I looked at each other. We didn’t have to talk. We knew what the other was thinking.

We’re making that soup at home.

Here it is.

You know, sometimes we hear from folks: “Your recipes look good but they look too fancy for our house.” We all have different cooking styles, so we’re not out to please everyone. We’re just trying to share what’s in our kitchen.

However, before I met Danny I also divided dishes into a) simple enough for me to do and b) the stuff that restaurant chefs make. Having this restaurant chef around the house is wonderful for so many reasons, but mostly because he has shown me to not be intimidated by food. If I go into a recipe ready to learn, and take my time on a slow Saturday afternoon, I’m usually amazed by how easy it is. The next dish after that success takes half the time because I get out of my own way and just cook.

Also, fancy-sounding recipes start with a cutting board full of humble ingredients, mostly.

We don’t do a lot of posts where we show you every step in photos here. With a two-year-old running around, there isn’t time! But this weekend, while my parents danced with Lu to the soundtrack of Glee, Danny and I cooked. Actually, he cooked and I sat up on the kitchen counter to take photos for you.

We want you to have this soup.

So you start with a hot pan and some pancetta. Pancetta is an Italian favorite, a little like bacon but not smoked. It’s usually cured with salt, sugar, fennel seeds, and pepper. Use a touch of pancetta in this soup and all those flavors will slip into your spoon as well.

If you don’t have pancetta, you can use a little bacon or ham here too.

And if you’re vegetarian, you can skip the pancetta entirely. Use the onion instead.

You chop an onion. I can’t really think of a soup that doesn’t start with 1 large onion, peeled and chopped. Onions are humble but wonderfully useful. If you’re using the pancetta, you can cook the onion in the rendered fat until it’s soft and translucent. However, if you don’t want the meat, caramelize the onion pieces instead. Cook them on low heat, slowly, until they are limp and dark brown and clinging to each other. That caramelized taste will add a depth of flavor to this soup you’ll love.

These are sunchokes.

You might know them as Jerusalem artichokes instead. They’re not flashy vegetables — look at those knotty tubers! They look a little like fresh ginger root, but they are nothing like ginger. They have the name artichoke in them, but they taste nothing like an artichoke. They’re actually from the sunflower family. In Italian, the name for sunflower is girasole. Someone heard that in English and thought it sounded like Jerusalem. They’re not from Jerusalem. These are confusing little vegetables, right?

Actually, they’re lovely. They have a slight nutty taste, a faint sweetness, and a wonderful crunch. They’re also full of iron, apparently. There’s a hint of water chestnut in the bite of a sunchoke. I love them. And I had never heard of them before I met Danny.

One of my favorite moments of being pregnant with Lu was when I returned home to find a big jar of pickled sunchokes on our front porch, thanks to our friend Brandon. (Pregnant women love pickled things, you see.)

(Some people complain that eating sunchokes gives them intestinal upset. Sunchokes are high in fiber and contain inulin, instead of traditional starch, so that can cause upset in some folks. If you’re not eating a diet high in fiber right now, these might come as a shock to the system. Danny and I have never had a problem, however.

Mixing the sunchokes with the potatoes might cut down on the effects, if you suffer from them.)

Seriously, you want to try these.

And I love that making soup means you can rough chop them. No need for meticulous precision when these are going to be pureed anyway.

Potatoes.

I really don’t think that any soup (or dish, for that matter) that involves potatoes could be called that fancy. They grow in dirt. They have such knobbly skin.

I think potatoes are beautiful.

This is the size of the diced potatoes you want for this soup. We describe it in the recipe, but we wanted you to see it here.

You let everything cook, with some chicken stock or water, until the potatoes yield to the knife.

It only takes 30 minutes to make, if that.

We love our Vita Mix blender. (Thank you, Cari!) LOVE. IT. This blender makes the smoothest soups I have ever sipped. (And the grain attachment makes it easy to grind your own flours.)

However, until a couple of years ago, we didn’t have a Vita Mix. A regular blender works here too.

You can use an immersion blender, of course. We love that thing too. Just expect it to take a bit longer than with a powerful blender.

Also, when you use the blender, you have to blend in batches. This allows you to pour the soup through a strainer and watch the steam rise.

Oh, the smell. This soup smells rich and warm, the antidote to a cold winter day, like putting on a blanket.

There are no expensive ingredients in it, and it’s all vegetables and stock and spices. However, it smells as though it should cost much more than it does.

And there it is, topped with pancetta and drizzled with chile oil you made yourself.

See? You can do this. You want this soup.

POTATO SUNCHOKE SOUP WITH HOMEMADE CHILE OIL

There are a few unexpected touches, aside from the pancetta, that elevate this soup from ordinary. The thyme and nutmeg both nestle into the potatoes and sunchokes in such a comfortable spot that they may be hidden at first. Believe me, you need these spices. They are the brightness on a dark winter day. Some of you may have noticed that we usually call for fresh herbs in our recipes. However, I’ve convinced Danny that fresh herbs aren’t always available or inexpensive. As you know if you read this post, we have been chosen by McCormick to be part of their Real Gourmets program. We have been paid by them and sent a huge box full of the McCormick Gourmet spices. However, we had been using these for awhile, buying them ourselves. And I’m happy to say that the McCormick dried thyme is the first one Danny likes using in our food.

You’ll probably have more chile oil than you will need for this soup. Yay! You can use the leftover chile oil as a marinade for beef, chicken, or fish for tacos or fajitas. Cook up your favorite vegetables in it with cumin or garlic. We like it as the oil for popcorn. Use your imagination!

This soup is so easy to make that you’re going to go on a soup-making binge after this. Be prepared.

for the chile oil
½ cup grapeseed oil (you can also canola, safflower, or olive oil)
2 dried arbol chiles, stems and seeds removed
2 teaspoons paprika
1 teaspoon chile powder

Heating the oil. Set a small saucepan over low heat. Pour the grapeseed oil into the pan. Gently heat the oil to a small simmer.

Toasting the chiles and spices. Meanwhile, set another small saucepan over medium-high heat. Crush up the chiles a bit and toss them into the hot pan. Toast the chiles for a minute, tossing them around. Add the paprika and chile powder. Toss them all together in the hot pan until the spices release their fragrance, about 1 minute. Add 3 tablespoons of water to the chiles and spices and stir until you have a rough paste.

Letting the oil sit. Put the chile paste into a large bowl. Slowly, add the hot oil. Stir this up and let it sit for 1 hour.

Finishing the oil. Pour the chile oil through a strainer, lined with cheesecloth or a coffee filter, into a bowl. Let the oil sit overnight to develop its flavors.

for the soup
4 slices pancetta, rolled up like a cigar and sliced
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large onion, peeled and medium dice
3 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
1 1/2 pounds sunchokes, cut into thick slices
1 tablespoon dried thyme
2 pounds Yukon gold potatoes, peeled
5 cups liquid (chicken, vegetable stock, or water)
6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 cup heavy cream (we used dairy-free Mimicreme)
juice of one lemon
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
Kosher salt and cracked black pepper
1 tablespoon butter (optional)

Rendering the pancetta. Set a Dutch oven or large pot on medium-high heat. When the pot is hot, add the pancetta and the olive oil. Cook, stirring frequently, until the pancetta has crisped and the fat has rendered into the pan, about 3 to 4 minutes. Remove the pancetta and set aside.

Sautéeing the onions and garlic. Add the onions and garlic to the rendered pancetta fat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until they are soft and translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the sunchokes and thyme and cook until you smell everything strongly in the room, about 3 minutes.

Cooking the soup. Cut each potato into half, lengthwise, then slice horizontally. Cut each potato half into thirds. (See photo above if this is not clear.) Throw in all the potato dices. Cook, stirring, until everything is well-coated, about 1 minute. Pour in the stock. This should be enough liquid to cover the potatoes and sunchokes. If not, add 1 cup more. Stir it all up, then cook until a sharp knife goes through a potato piece and a sunchoke piece easily, about 20 minutes.

Finishing the soup. Blend the soup in 3 batches, adding 2 tablespoons of the olive oil to each batch. You could try an immersion blender here, but a strong blender works better. Pour the first two batches of pureed soup through a sieve into a large bowl. (This will make the final soup smooth.) When you have blended all the soup, pour it all back into the Dutch oven. Add the cream and stir the soup, then the lemon juice and stir the soup. Taste. Add nutmeg, salt and pepper to taste (you’re going to need more than you think!).

When the soup is seasoned as you like it, add the tablespoon of butter. Stir constantly, taking care not to scorch the soup, until the butter has disappeared entirely into the soup.

Ladle the soup into large bowls. Top with the crisp pancetta and drizzle with the prepared chile oil.

Feeds 8.

[print_link]

44 comments on “potato-sunchoke soup with homemade chile oil

  1. lauren

    I love sunchokes — this soup looks fantasticly warm — it’s negative degrees here in Portland, Maine, so I could use something piping hot this afternoon!

  2. nicole i

    sunchokes are so tasty but unfortunately, in spite of my high fiber diet they cause me great discomfort. bummer dude. also, i am reading your first book and enjoying it immensely…thank you.

  3. cari

    I feel for you Nicole, I have the same problem. However, they are so tasty that I am willing to give it a whirl again, banking on the hope that the potatoes and broth might temper the impact. If not, well then that fussy gas will just have to pass. I can’t wait to try this. In fact, It is going to go on our soup night menu in February, company and all! So soup is a real no brainer for me, something I love making, eating, tweaking , serving. It is such gathering food. I am even more intrigued with the recipe for the chili oil. What a great addition. I am always grateful for the option to make something like this myself rather than adding yet another store bought bottle of something into my pantry. As for the Vita Mix, what can I say. It is by far and away my most important kitchen appliance, tool, gadget . . . am glad to hear how much you like yours. But your right, you can puree soup in/with just about anything including a regular old blender, a cuisinart or emersion blender. They all work. I do find the added step of straining soup through a tamis, chinoise, or strainer is worth every bit of effort. You will end up with soup and smooth as velvet.

    1. shauna

      Cari, you are absolutely right about that VitaMix. Smooth as velvet. I hope this soup treats you better than the roasted ones did!

  4. Molly

    This sounds delicious, Shauna. And I love this: “Oh, the smell. This soup smells rich and warm, the antidote to a cold winter day, like putting on a blanket.” xo

  5. Ada

    That looks so tasty! I first tried sunchokes last summer when I got them in my CSA box. I think this is probably a tastier preparation than what I ended up doing with them… I’ll have to see if I can find them again!

  6. Sara

    Wow, this looks delicious! I’ll have to try this but I’ve never heard of sunchokes until today and I’ve never seen them at the store—will have to hunt them down. Thx!

  7. Nina

    Thanks Shauna and Danny- this looks so fantastic. I’m making your vertical roasted chicken tonight, and I’ll make a stock from the carcass tomorrow- which should then turn into sunchoke soup. (as long as Ballard Market has some chokes…) Don’t know why, but I can envision floating salmon caviar on top. (a trip to Uwajimaya is long overdue…)

    1. shauna

      We made roast chicken for dinner too, after reading your comment. If only we could be in the kitchen together!

      1. Nina

        That chicken (with the rosemary and meyer lemon) was just what the doctor ordered. It’s now soup and chicken salad. Wish I could hop in my floatplane and deliver some… Hah, yeah, right. Maybe I can kayak from Ballard to Vashon?

  8. MAGGIE

    ALMOST makes me regret aborting the garden bed full of these suckers. I could have made ALOT of soup with the 15 gallons or so of sunchokes I dug up and disposed of. There were a few sneaky ones trying to grow last year, piled now under 3 feet of snow. Maybe I’ll save this recipe for a raw damp spring day and finish the job of “getting rid” of the sunchokes in my garden.

    1. Eileen

      Disposed of… 15 gallons (!!!)… of sunchokes?!!? Wow- oh wow. Boggles the mind! I’ll be wishing myself in your garden for the next hunt. :^)

      1. Maggie

        7 months later and I’ve got a huge patch of sunchokes again…… will be digging some up finally to try this soup, and hope that I’m not over run again next season.

  9. Barrie

    The soup looks amazing, but I also love those bowls! I got them for my friend as a going away present when she left NYC, and I covet some for myself even though I’m still here!

  10. Eileen

    Beautiful writing, as always! Sunchoke & potato soup is one of our faves but I think the pancetta & chili oil will take it over the top, so I can hardly wait to try y’all’s recipe! I guess I’ll have to since the only place to get them here is our CSA share & that’ll be a couple of weeks [sigh]. We use both them & the potatoes carefully trimmed & scrubbed but unpeeled for richer [flavor & nutrition. Our blender makes the soup plenty silky even so. I appreciate your clarity on the potato variety- they vary so much in texture, dryness & starchiness!

    My celiac guy’s residual digestive troubles decrease or even disappear with a bit of raw food before the main course and/or as dessert, plus appropriate enzymes afterward. We find that no matter what the fiber level or food content he gets far better results with an ongoing probiotic and enzyme regimen- some from supplements (carefully chosen for active cultures & effectiveness) and some from foods. Keeping the gut flora happy is harder for celiac folks but even more critical than for everyone else, so we put a good bit of effort into it. Plus, it’s a great excuse to always have pineapple & such on hand, LOL!

  11. Angela DiGiovanni | Living Out Loud

    So happy to have found your website through PiPi La La’s blog.

    I started a gluten free lifestyle two weeks ago to support conception – a four year journey of infertility so far.

    I’m stoked to go through your posts and recipes!

    Anyone else here who has had fertility problems, went gluten free, and then conceived?

  12. Erin, MS RD

    Shauna!!

    Thank you so much fo your blog/books. I am a dietitian in the midwest, and I often refer gluten-free patients to your blog. You and Danny and Lucy are a shining beacons of what the gluten-free lifestyle can be. I love you guys because you embody a gluten-free lifestyle that banishes ‘deprivation’ from the celiac vocabulary. Initially, many people I counsel on the gluten-free diet are wary of the changes they must make in pursuit of health. I often use your family of an example of how to live–and eat–gluten-free, joyously. While I’m not sure many of my patients could pick a sunchoke out of a lineup of root vegetables, I know that the ones I refer to Gluten-Free Girl and the Chef appreciate your family-friendly-meets-haute-cuisine approach to nutritious, safe, delicious FOOD. Thank you for enriching my own knowledge and introducing a host of newly diagnosed celiacs to the freedom of living gluten-free.

  13. Jamie Roos

    Thanks for this recipe. I appreciate how you included the photos to put it within reach of those of us without a resaurant chef in our homes. I made the soup this week, and it is absolutely delicious. The straining took forever though – maybe because I only have a small strainer and I had to do it in about 10 batches…. I’ll make it again for my next dinner party.

  14. Marci Miller

    OH My GOSH! that was the most amazing soup! My bf just made it for dinner, complete with super spicy chili oil. The depth of flavor and all the ingredients I would never think of putting together. We have many allergies in our house, and potatoes are such a staple. What a nice new way of eating them. And we’ve a drawer full of sunchokes since fall and didn’t really know what to do with them. Thanks!!

  15. Rachael

    I like the site redesign!

    Also, sun-chokes are the devil on my digestive system. Digestive apocalypse! I’ll spare you the details, but really, I think you should urge caution in people who don’t know whether they react badly to them.

  16. Mataio Gillis

    Ciao Gluten Free Girl.
    This is Mataio & Jessica of Ciao Thyme, We are friends of Molly and Brandon.
    Three years ago we opened a cooking school in Bellingham, WA called ‘In the Kitchen’
    We are curious if you would like to come up and teach a special class for the countless number of our guests and class attendees who have asked for this topic!
    So lets go to the pro! “GLUTEN FREE GIRL!!!!
    Would you consider a class in April or May? Monday, Tuesday, or Wednesday night 6:30 to 9pm…
    Thank you for your consideration!
    Ciao
    Mataio

  17. Kristi

    My amazing teen daughter made this last weekend…it was Divine!! The pic we posted on FB got comments like “food porn at its best”. I adore meals that taste sexy and look sexy as well!

  18. Julia

    I just made this soup for dinner tonight, and WOW! The flavors are wonderful and go together so well. Even my picky husband who, when I brought home the sunchokes said, “eew what are those?”, went back for seconds. Great recipe, definitely a keeper!

    Thanks!

  19. legastronaut

    I learned about this blog after picking up your book in my fave local Seattle spice shop, World Spice Merchants! I’m so happy to have found it. My brother-in-law is gluten-free, and you’ve removed the guess-work from entertaining he and my sister. This soup is fabulous- I used one Aji Mirasol Chile and one Ghost Chile (http://www.worldspice.com/spices/ghost-chile) for the oil to accomodate the real heat nuts in my house, and considered using the beautiful Spanish smoked paprika next time, too. It looks like the World Spice website has some recipes for spice/chile-infused vinegars, too! I can just imagine the combo…

  20. Stephanie

    I dug up about 1/4 of my sunchokes this weekend, trying to create a sunny spot for one last round of sugar snap peas, plus all my potatoes. I’m betting I have JUST the right amount to make this soup.

  21. Stephanie

    So WONDERFUL! I had just over 1.5 lbs of sunchokes, and only a generous .5 lbs of potatoes, but went for it.
    Vegetarian, so went with red onion from my CSA and no pancetta. I had a bustling house and it took an hour to clean the sunchokes (the downside of home harvest), so didn’t bother defrosting stock from the freezer–just covered the veg with water.
    The impact of the lemon was surprising and necessary. I guess it makes sense, as I love to dip artichoke leaves in butter/lemon/thyme, but I worried it would be out of place. Instead it was perfect.
    I made Udi’s bread into croutons (the crusts from a bread-pudding), and we topped with that and the chili oil. It was a great addition last night, but a distraction in the leftovers, when the flavors have melded so beautifully overnight.
    My one complaint–I wish I’d had warning that the toasting spices would cause everyone in my house to cough deeply for the next half hour.

    Thank you!

Comments are closed