Thursday, December 10, 2009
Posted by Kate at 7:40 PM
It took a while, but winter is really here. Temperatures will drop well below freezing overnight and there are no daytime highs much above freezing anytime in our 5-day weather forecast. I've sort of been waiting for these days. Today it was finally time to dig up a few of the new vegetables I trialed this year. Despite the cold weather, the ground isn't the least bit frozen yet. I know, harvesting in December in Pennsylvania sounds unlikely, but there are so many possibilities with season extension. My main strategy is the laziest one: just grow things that mature late and don't mind the cold. Such as Jerusalem artichokes and parsnips.
Both of these crops take up garden space for a very long time. From the perspective of overall production efficiency of the garden neither crop makes a great deal sense, since they don't fit into any succession planting scheme. But I really like roasted parsnips. And being able to harvest through the cold months of the year is important to me. So I'm willing to give parsnips the space and time they need.
Jerusalem artichokes on the other hand were a complete experiment. I didn't even know whether we would enjoy eating them. The selling points on these tubers included their ability to thrive on utter neglect, their ability to hold in the ground until I'm ready to dig them, and a reputation for large yields. The liabilities included a reputation for causing "hellacious" gas and for being ineradicable once established. Apparently some people can digest inulin, the main form of starch in Jerusalem artichokes. Other people can't, and their intestines let them know about it. What fun to conduct an experiment on ourselves!
I thought about making a Jerusalem artichoke and parsnip soup, but then thought it would be wiser to let the unfamiliar vegetable take center stage, the better to judge the reaction of both tongue and alimentary canal. I did however see fit to muddy the water just a little bit with some of our La Ratte fingerling potatoes. Not being a particularly assertive flavor, but contributing a starch well known to our intestines, potato seemed like a good compromise. I put in maybe 1/3 of a pound of potatoes to 1 pound of Jerusalem artichokes, and didn't peel either vegetable, just scrubbed them very well. On a hunch, I boiled the Jerusalem artichokes slowly in a separate pot from the rest of the soup, hoping the cooking water might leach out a bit of the potentially offending starch. Otherwise, the soup was pretty straightforward - garlic and leek sauteed in butter; then salt and pepper; potatoes cooked together with the rest in chicken stock to cover; the separately cooked Jerusalem artichokes added in; everything pureed with a wand blender; cream added, and topped off with a garnish of chopped parsley. Everything but the salt, pepper, butter and cream were produced on our little sub-acre suburban lot.
Gosh, it was tasty! Very simple, but tasty. The appearance, frankly, was not very prepossessing, though that could probably be overcome if purple potatoes or some fancy-schmancy garnishing tidbit were used. The tubers really do have the flavor of artichokes, despite not being at all closely related to them. I could see going in several different directions with spices and vegetable pairings for Jerusalem artichokes. I think they would partner very well with spinach for instance, but I'm also curious about adding a faint note of either fennel or star anise.
I had a small bit of this soup for lunch, then more for dinner, and thus far no intestinal distress. So I think I'm in the clear. And there are parsnips to look forward to with tomorrow night's dinner!