Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Jerusalem Artichoke Soup

First published Canberra Times, 13 April 2011

After a couple of attempts at securing a dinner reservation at one of Beaune's more popular restaurants, Caves Madeleine, we finally snag one for the evening of our last night's stay.  


This restaurant was highly recommended to us by Marjorie Taylor of the Cook's Atelier cooking school in Beaune. She told us the food and service was honest and unpretentious, but consistently good and the Caves Madeleine large communal table was a deliberate strategy to break down the traditional separation between guests and staff.
Caves Madeleine is situated just outside the old city walls of Beaune and we notice, while walking along the street, it is one of a number of restaurants and bars targeting the wine tourism market. We hope this isn't just another tourist trap.

Lolo at work
  Our reservation is for 7.30pm and the restaurant is practically empty, apart from one other table, a couple with a baby. We are shown to our table by a rather shy, but polite waitress casually dressed in jeans and runners. She tells us her English is poor and we let her know it's better than our French, this generates a smile as she fills us in on the plat-de-jour and menu specials. Our reserved table for two is on the raised platform in the front window, of what appears to have been a former shop, this is interesting!

The restaurant isn't large, with 5 small tables and the long communal table running down one side. As we are thinking about what to order, the place starts to fill up. Sitting near the door, we are privy to the number of people turned away without reservations, and it's obvious this is a haunt for locals and tourists in the know. It also reminds us that our reservation time of 7.30pm is not particularly fashionable - and I make a mental note. 

 While the restaurant is quickly filling up and the one waitress is coping competently, a young man arrives through the kitchen door, clad in shirt and jeans wearing a motorbike helmet. He divests the helmet and gets straight to work circulating, chatting and taking orders. He turns out to be the softly spoken but charismatic owner and maitre d’ Monsieur Laurent Brelin.
Jerusalem Artichoke Soup

Given that wine is the main game in Burgundy, it's hard to ignore one wall stacked from floor to ceiling with wine bottles and the use of stacked full wine boxes as partitions is novel. As part of her repartee, the waitress explains, there is no wine menu, as you can walk around the walls and choose your own bottle. This explains why there are a number of people browsing the wall of stacked bottles.

By now the place is abuzz and the waitress and Monsieur Brelin are working the room like well rehearsed performers, although still providing individualised attention and service, with much of the discussion centred on the selection of wines.

With our meal choices made, we ask Monsieur Brelin for his local wine recommendation and he suggests a bottle of 2006 Volnay from Domaine Regis Rossignol-Changarnier. We go with this and he decants the wine at the table, letting us know it will soften and round out beautifully in 10 minutes. He also asks us to call him by his nickname Lolo.

Our soup starters arrive, I have Jerusalem Artichoke Soup and Steve has the Langoustine Bisque. The first taste of my soup reveals an earthy, musky and nutty flavour that is enhanced by the poached egg and smoked ham on top. Steve and I quickly taste each other’s soup, both groaning with pleasure.

Steve goes for boeuf bourguignon and I go for duck filet, both a perfect match to our now mellow red. Both meals are delicious and my duck is lightly cooked, tender and served with a side of vegetables. Thankfully, with no sign of stacks, dots or sauce flourishes of any description.

After our mains we sit and enjoy the wine and are lured to dessert by an adjoining table's enticing selection. The nougat ice cream I chose was soft and velvety with a creamy texture sitting in a berry coulis puddle while Steve’s chocolate fondant was fudgy and warm.

Boef  Bourguignon
Lolo kindly shares his recipe for Jerusalem Artichoke Soup with me, explaining carefully that Jerusalem Artichokes bear no relationship to globe artichokes which are a completely different variety. Jerusalem artichokes are a tuber, similar to a potato and resemble a thick piece of ginger root. It is neither an artichoke or is it from Jerusalem and the name appears to have a convoluted origin.

Soup is one of the easiest ways to use Jerusalem artichokes and they contain copious amounts of iron, five times that of potatoes and are comparable to the iron content of red meat. When choosing Jerusalem artichokes avoid those that are soft or sprouting and pick those of similar size as this will ensure they cook evenly. They're at their best from autumn through winter and are an ideal vegetable to grow in the Canberran climate. Just remember to plant them in a container as they can be invasive otherwise you may have an unwanted crop each year.

Because of their muted and nutty flavour, Jerusalem artichokes are incredibly versatile and match with a range of foods, in particular butter; extra virgin olive oil; truffle, vinegar; mustard; onions; garlic; fish; veal; beef; chicken; and game meats and of course wine.
Nougat ice cream

Quantities below serve 4.

Jerusalem Artichoke Soup from Lolo
450g Jerusalem artichokes peeled and diced
1 large potato, peeled and diced
2 celery branches, diced
1 small fennel bulb, diced
2 eschallots, chopped
1 rosemary twig
3 cups chicken stock
2 tbsp butter
2 tbsp crème fraîche or pure cream
parsley, chopped
sea salt flakes

4 eggs, for poaching at the last moment.
good quality smoked ham, shredded and sauteed

Heat the butter in a large heavy based saucepan and sautee the smoked ham and set aside for the garnish. In the same pan add the eschallots and cook with the rosemary for a few minutes without browning. Add the remaining vegetables and cook on medium heat for about 8 minutes.

Add the stock and bring to a boil. Cover and simmer for about 20 minutes or until the vegetables are fork tender. Remove from the heat and whizz in a blender until velvety smooth or pass through a fine sieve.

Mix in the cream fraiche, the salt flakes and parsley and taste for seasoning. Serve topped with a warm, runny poached egg and the sautéed shaved ham

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