kitchen firsts: roasted sunchokes (in or out of a salad with hazelnuts and goat cheese)
This is a kitchen first I’ve been looking forward to for awhile. I had never heard of a sunchoke (also called Jerusalem artichokes) until I started watching Top Chef, and then all of a sudden serving things on a bed of sunchoke puree became all the rage. Although I wouldn’t presume to know all the vegetables out there, it is somewhat rare for me to come across one that is utterly unfamiliar, but this was one for me– until recently, I had never tasted one or even seen them in a store.
Once I tracked some down, I actually found these little sunflower tubers, also called sunroots (or earth apples!) quite endearing, if a root can be so. They are all cute and knobbly and a nice purply red brown color, and the taste is quite interesting– kind of like a potato mixed with an artichoke. Interestingly, while they are called Jerusalem artichokes, they seem to have no connection to Jerusalem, and are not related to the artichoke family (Wikipedia has more to say on the possible origins of the name, if you’re interested), but wherever they come from I found them to be a fun culinary adventure. I’m not sure that I will go out of my way to eat sunchokes once a week now, but I enjoyed them roasted, and in this salad, and I’m thinking they would bring some nice variety to a soup (I’m not sure why, but the idea of sunchoke puree does not actually excite me much). Do you have a favorite recipe or way of eating sunchokes?
I was initially planning on just roasting up the sunchokes and serving them as is (this recipe looks really good, I’ll try it next time), but then I saw the most recent episode of River Cottage Winter’s on the Way, and was inspired (despite Hugh’s wisecracking about fartichokes) to give this salad a try. I loved the combination of hazelnuts and goat cheese with the sunchokes, and appreciated eating a salad that reflects the season. I happened to have a big head of regular old green leaf lettuce sitting around that I needed to use up, but if you are able to track down some nice winter salad greens you could enjoy an even more seasonally inspired meal– you could use whatever is locally available, or else Trader Joe’s sells a green called mache (also called lamb’s lettuce or corn lettuce) which I ate all the time when I was in France and really love– it’s a wonderful winter green!
This salad was an easy everyday meal. Roasting the sunchokes was low-maintenance, as they are simply tossed in olive oil, salt, pepper, and a sprinkling of thyme before popping in at 375 for about 30 minutes. The rest of the meal was just toasting hazelnuts and assembling a salad! The sunchokes kind of bulked up the salad and made it feel more filling, so you can really enjoy this as an entree salad if you like, but it also went well with soup and bread for us. Feel free to choose whatever goat cheese you fancy– Hugh recommends a hard cheese, so I asked my cheese steward for recommendations and tasted a couple before settling on a nice sharp goat cheddar. As for the salad oil, Hugh uses hazelnut oil to create the dressing for the salad, but as hazelnut runs about $20 per bottle around here, I used olive oil instead; if you happen to have hazelnut oil laying around, by all means use a tablespoon of it in your dressing! For the roasting oil, he calls for olive or rapeseed; I used olive because I didn’t know what rapeseed was, but it turns out its similar to canola oil, so you can use that if you prefer the flavor!
Roasted Sunchoke, Hazelnut, and Goat Cheese Salad
Adapted from River Cottage: Winter’s On The Way, Episode 4 (or here)
1/2 lb sunchokes (or as many or few as you want to have in your salad–we had about ten in a variety of sizes)
3 T olive or canola oil for roasting, and 1 T for the dressing (if you have hazelnut oil, you can sub that for the dressing)
Salt and Pepper
A sprinkling of dried thyme, or a few sprigs of fresh
1 bay leaf
A squeeze each of lemon and orange juice (you could get away with just lemon or just orange if that’s what you have)
A splash of cider vinegar (Hugh doesn’t call for this but I found the dressing needed something extra)
1/2 cup hazelnuts
1 large head lettuce
1 handful of grated or shaved hard goats cheese (we used sharp goat cheddar)
Preheat your oven to 375. Place your hazelnuts in a roasting pan to toast for about five minutes while you prep the sunchokes (don’t forget them or they will burn!). While this is going, scrub your sunchokes with a vegetable brush under cool water and then cut them into small, bite-size chunks. Put the chunks in a large salad bowl, and drizzle with the 3 T olive oil. Crush the bay leaf just a bit and add it, then sprinkle with salt, pepper, and thyme, and toss to coat.
When the hazelnuts are toasty, remove them and cool them so you can get the sunchokes going. Wipe out the roasting pan and then pull the sunchokes out of the bowl and place them in the roasting pan, leaving whatever seasoned oil is left in the salad bowl to contribute to your dressing. Roast the sunchokes, shaking around once or twice during cooking, for about 30 minutes, or until they’re tender and golden (cooking time will vary based on how large your chunks are).
While the sunchokes are roasting, take your toasted hazelnuts and wrap them in a clean kitchen towel. Rub vigorously to remove the skins (or you can leave them on if you don’t mind them or are lazy), then chop them coarsely if you like and set aside. During the roasting time you can also wash and tear your lettuce, shave the goat cheese, and make your dressing.
To make the dressing, add another 1 T olive (or hazelnut) oil to the remaining oil in the bowl. Then give a generous squeeze of lemon and orange juices, and add a splash of cider vinegar. Season to taste with salt and pepper and whisk it all together. The amounts here are pretty flexible–it’s not really even a vinaigrette, more just a light dressing, so taste it and add more citrus or vinegar if you like.
When the sunchokes are done, allow them to cool a bit. Then put them into your salad bowl and toss with the dressing. Add your lettuce and toss it again, and then garnish with the toasted hazelnuts and goat cheese! Enjoy!