My Saturday, in Food.

I’ve been away for far too long.  The excitement of my pending graduation and new job as F.H. King’s Urban Ag Director have distracted me from keeping up with my usual to-do list.  I kept attending Get the Dirt dinners, expecting to provide you all with an eloquent write-up of words spoken, and although Cal DeWitt and Donal MacCoon were brilliant in their musings about environmental stewardship and sustainable well-being, I just never found the words… or time.  Then, because I had been away so long, I really wanted to wow you all with something incredible and well worth the (two month) wait!  Well, that’s just not going to happen between final papers and exams so instead, I’m going to get back into the swing of things by telling you what I ate on Saturday.

I woke up at 4 am on Saturday, for no particular reason.  I had decided on Tuesday that I needed to get to the outdoor farmer’s market this week.  Perhaps it was my excitement for this exciting day which forced me to wake at such an early hour.  Watching the clock diligently, after hours of very necessary school work, I decided that 7 am was late enough to leave my house.  Bundled to the max in a winter polar fleece, hat, scarf and rain coat, I was more than ready.

The morning began at Bradbury’s, a crepe-making coffee shop I had heard wonderful things about since moving to Madison, but just like with this blog, time got away from me.  Up since four, the usual pastry I ate while perusing the market was just not going to cut it, it was time to finally try some crepes.  Of the three savory crepes they offered, I was 100% torn.  (Another reason I probably subconsciously chose never to visit Bradbury’s… because I knew that once I opened the door, I would never be able to close it.  If all the crepes looked this delicious and they changed often, I was going to end up coming here a lot).  Going with my gut, I ordered the scrambled egg, nettle pesto and cheddar crepe, although now all I can think of is the pastrami, kraut, mustard, mixed greens, fried egg and pickled ramps one.  The nettle pesto was just perfect for a rainy morning, as was my mug of Kickapoo Coffee.

Then it was on to the market, where I still couldn’t resist my morning pastry.  My apple fritter was cinnamon-y and fresh, exactly how I had hoped it would be.  Then finally, after a lot of delectable calories, it was on to my healthier choices.  My morning grocery shopping was not especially unique.  I bought eggs, asparagus, a French baguette from Stella’s bakery,  asparagus, radishes and English cucumbers.  However, because I want to start my own farm in the next few years, I desperately want to become well-versed and comfortable with every vegetable I can find at the Farmer’s Market, so I also bought two veggies that usually intimidate me: parsnips and sunchokes.  Sunchokes scare me far more than parsnips, but I’ve never really acquired a taste for parsnips, so now was my chance.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with these semi-uncommon vegetables, here is a bit of a background.  Parsnips are root vegetables that look a lot like overgrown white carrots.  They have a semi-sweet flavor (almost like a sweet potato) with the texture of other root veggies.  When they get too large, they develop bitter, woody centers.  They can be prepared in similar ways to a potato.  They are great roasted or in soups and stews.  Mashing parsnips is becoming increasingly popular.

Sunchokes, also known as Jerusalem artichokes, are definitely a bit more odd.   For one thing, they are not related to artichokes.  Sunchokes are actually the root of a species of sunflower.  They look a lot like a ginger root but have a sweet, nutty flavor when peeled.  Knobbiness is inevitable, but avoid sunchokes that have soft or mushy spots.  Sunchokes, much like parsnips, can be used just like potatoes.  Roast them, boil them or use them in soups.  Because of their slightly softer texture, you can also shave them into salads or lightly sautee them.

After spending the afternoon munching on delicious flatbread pizzas made by Underground Food Collective at the F.H. King Summer Garden Kick-Off, what did I choose to make for dinner with my new uber-adventurous vegetables?  Sunchoke, Cauliflower and Leek Soup topped with fried mushrooms and parsnips!  Frying and pureeing vegetables into soup is a little bit of a cop-out, but it was delicious, so that’s really all that matters.  I’ll just have to continue my mastering of these particular root vegetables.  I ad-libbed quite a bit, but here is an approximation of the recipe I used.

Sunchoke, Cauliflower and Leek Soup

  • 1/2 pound sunchokes (3 “normal-sized” ones, like those pictured above)
  • 2 shallots
  • 1 garlic clove
  • 1 Tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 Tablespoon butter, divided
  • 1/2 head cauliflower, chopped roughly
  • 3/4 cup dry white wine
  • 1 small-to-medium-sized leek (white part only), chopped roughly
  • 3 cups vegetable or chicken broth
  • 1 cup milk (or cream)
  • 1 parsnip, peeled and sliced thin
  • 6 mushrooms, sliced thin
  • Red pepper flakes
  1. Peel sunchokes and cut into thin slices.
  2. Saute shallots and garlic in olive oil until soft.
  3. Add sunchokes and cauliflower and saute at high heat for a couple minutes.
  4. Add white wine and reduce slightly, then add broth.
  5. While wine is reducing, saute chopped leeks in tablespoon of butter.
  6. Add leeks to broth mixture.
  7. Allow to simmer on low heat until vegetables are soft.
  8. Puree the soup in a blender or with an immersion blender until smooth.
  9. Add the milk or cream and stir well.
  10. Melt remaining tablespoon of butter and fry parsnip and mushrooms until crisp.
  11. Pour soup into bowls, top with parsnips and mushrooms and sprinkle with red pepper flakes.

Here’s just my first attempt of 2012 at cooking these new-to-me vegetables, so please share your favorite parsnip or sunchoke recipe if you have one!!