Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Artichoke Soup

The following is a wonderful soup, but with a snag to it - or perhaps you might think it to be an amusing bonus. The fact is that this particular root vegetable (Jerusalem artichoke), when cooked in almost any form, creates a great deal of air in the stomach and gut. (I am told that we produce, on average, 3-5 litres of internal air in 24 hours.) And as this air has to escape somewhere, and as a rule choosing to exit in the downward direction, it can cause embarrassment, laughter, or pain. However, I read somewhere that asafoetida (or asafoetide), if used in the cooking of artichokes, would prevent the usually excessive egress of air from the body. Powdered asafoetida, gained from the dried resin of a plant, is used in Chinese medicine and Indian dishes. I owned some, tried it, and threw it away, mainly because of the foetid part of its name. On hearing about its wind-reducing properties I tried to buy some more, but Indians in three shops visited had never heard of it. Eventually I did manage to buy a packet from a Greek grocer. Volume experiments using a minimum quantity were disappointing. Using the maximum recommended ruined the soup (which afterwards was turned into a strong mulligatawny satisfactorily) and might have reduced flatulence. Asafoetida may, however, respond more happily to your own metabolism and help to reduce artichoke-generated air.


You will need:
Jerusalem artichokes
Pepper and salt
Stock, or stock and milk

To make it “special”, you will also need:
A few scallops
Egg yolk
Single cream

Melt a large lump of butter in a saucepan, and in it cook a chopped-up onion until it is soft and transparent. Add a dozen or so well-scrubbed and cut-up artichokes (they are usually knobbly and difficult to free of adhering soil) and a chopped potato or two. For a pale and finer soup, peel these vegetables. For a rustic one, don't bother, just chop them up. Season with pepper and salt. Cook for a little longer and add stock, or stock and milk, to cover generously. Boil this very gently for about half an hour. The vegetables will then be soft.
Now you have the choice of eating the soup as it is in its rough and ready form, liquidising it in an electric blender, or putting it all through a hand-operated soup Mouli. I prefer the last method. Test for seasoning and serve.
To turn it into a special, dinner-party piece, peel the vegetables before making the soup. Then poach a few scallops in a little milk for only a few minutes. Add the milk to the soup. Cut up the scallop meat. Add this to the soup. Thicken with an egg yolk whisked with some single cream. Then heat it to the desired temperature, but do not boil. Serve with a sprinkling of paprika over each plate full.