a case of culinary serendipity: jerusalem artichoke and creamed spinach soup

jerusalem artichoke soup with
creamed spinach
The English language is a treasure chest of beautiful words and not just because our ancestors pillaged the globe absconding with words from other languages that suited their purposes. English is a glorious hodgepodge of Germanic roots and a liberal sprinkling of Latin, Ancient Greek, Norman French as well as bits of Old Norse, Dutch, Hindi and Urdu. Such is the flexibility of English, it is able to assimilate all sorts of foreign words as well as nonsense words. One of my favourite words is a made-up one: Serendipity - the accident of finding something good or useful without looking for it. Not only does it have such a lovely meaning, but like a small child happily babbling nonsense, it seems to bubble with happiness . . . which brings me on to my soup.

Your soup? Yes, my soup. I had been shopping, with a list. I need the list to keep me in check. It stops my wildest excesses and means I am likely to stick to a plan. But it comes with a caveat. The list must be adhered to at all times unless I am confronted with seasonal vegetables that send all my good intentions and menu planning to hell in the proverbial hand basket.

Which is why I had arrived home with a large brown paper bag bursting with knobbly brown Jerusalem artichokes and a great damp green bunch of spinach, without any clear idea of what I was going to do with either of them. Perhaps a gratin with the Jerusalem artichokes to accompany Sunday lunch? A spinach sauce for some fish, or a stuffing for pasta? What I certainly wasn't planning on doing was combining the two.

Which is where serendipity comes in and why I need a word that is serendipity-max, or perhaps extreme serendipity. I definitely want a word that describes culinary serendipity, with specific reference to the happy accident of two ingredients coming together in an unexpected and joyous partnership; that results in a meal that completely defines my mood. Is that too much to ask?

I was flicking through my copy of Nigel Slater's Tender I, A cook and his vegetable patch, the first of his weighty and rather wonderful tomes on growing vegetables in your garden and how to cook them. My eye was caught by a recipe title A new artichoke recipe. This intrigued me. How new could an artichoke recipe be? Really? Well it turns out, that in another case of culinary serendipity, Nigel Slater had put together a basic Jerusalem artichoke soup with leftover creamed spinach. "The magic in this soup" he says "is in the marriage of earthy cold-weather food and a shot of mood-lifting chlorophyll. Spring is obviously stirring".

Perfect.

I adapted my version as I added a tiny clove of chopped garlic (it goes with everything) and a sprig of fresh thyme (ditto). NS uses 2 leeks and I unfortunately only had one. Another trip to the shops would have meant another opportunity for me to ignore my shopping list. I restrained myself by replacing one of the leeks with a chopped onion!

Serves 4-6
Skill level: Easy

ingredients
2 x large leeks, finely sliced (white and pale green part only) - or 1 leek and 1 chopped onion
40g butter
1 x small garlic clove, very finely chopped
450g Jerusalem artichokes, roughly chopped
2 x bay leaves
a small sprig of fresh thyme
1 litre vegetable stock (you could use water or chicken stock)
salt and freshly ground black pepper
creamed spinach
30g butter
500g fresh spinach leaves (use large leaves rather than baby ones)
2-3 tbsp crème fraîche or double cream
a pinch of freshly ground nutmeg
salt (optional)

directions:
  1. Make sure the leeks are thoroughly cleaned under cold running water, to ensure any earth is washed away. Drain thoroughly before slicing.
  2. Melt the butter in a large heavy-based saucepan and add the leeks (or leek and onion mixture). They should be left to soften over a low to moderate heat for 15 to 20 minutes. Stir regularly.
  3. 5 minutes before the end of the cooking time, I add the garlic and stir it in to let it sweat with the leeks.
  4. Give the artichokes a very good scrub and rinse Some people peel them before chopping them, but I don't bother!
  5. Add the chopped artichokes to the leeks and stir well. Continue to cook for another 2 to 3 minutes.
  6. Add the bay leaves, fresh thyme and stock. Bring to the boil and then turn to a low heat. Simmer (partially covered with a lid) for about 25 minutes, or until the artichokes are tender.
  7. Set aside and leave to cool before blending. Can I now repeat what I always say when making and blending soups - Do not try to blend when hot, as this can be dangerous, particularly if using a jug blender. A combination of hot soup, a build-up of steam and vibration, can cause the hot liquid to explode from of the blender. Safer to let the soup cool a little! Similarly, don't overfill the blender - it can erupt!
  8. Blend the soup until smooth, check the seasoning and set aside.
  9. Wash the spinach leaves and give them a shake to dry.
  10. Make the creamed spinach by melting the butter in a saucepan. Add the spinach leaves, over a low to moderate heat. Stir occasionally as the spinach softens in the butter.
  11. The spinach will give off liquid and from time to time, drain this liquid off. (If you press the spinach against the side of the saucepan with a wooden spoon, it will help to remove excess liquid).
  12. When you have removed as much moisture as you can (since you do not want watery creamed spinach), put in a blender together with the crème fraîche, a pinch of freshly ground nutmeg and a little salt. Whizz this together until smooth.
  13. Ensure that the soup is warmed through and ladle into bowls.
  14. Top with a generous dollop of creamed spinach.

4 comments:

  1. A truly beautiful piece of writing Rachel.Algarve has a return bone to pick with you-I can not get Jerusalem artichokes in Portugal and you have dangled the carrot in front of the donkey.I´ll just dream of serendipity.

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  2. now this is very intriguing soup...and I have a neighbour who has just insisted on giving me a huge batch of Jerusalem Artichokes... so I am one happy man!

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  3. Soup - both comforting and rewarding. I get such satisfaction from making it, especially if we've used up leftovers. It's so quick to throw together too and some evening, late back from work, its the perfect choice. Thanks for sharing your recipe, I'll be making it very soon

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  4. i do love the velvety flavour of Jerusalem artichoke. will have to try it with spinach now!

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