The menu is in transition at the Custom House in the South Loop, and so is the chef. Aaron Deal is a native of North Carolina, and when presented with the challenge of coming up with a seasonally appropriate side dish for Thanksgiving, his thoughts turned to a root vegetable gratin.
"Au gratin is something that people are fairly familiar with, so it's kind of a fun way of presenting a new flavor and a new vegetable to people," said Custom House chef Aaron Deal.
That new vegetable is the sunchoke -- often called a Jerusalem artichoke -- this root vegetable looks like a cross between fresh ginger and a potato. Deal starts by tossing them with some salt, pepper and olive oil, then roasts them until tender.
While they're in the oven, Deal begins sauteeing sliced onions and garlic, just until the onions are translucent. Once the sunchokes are removed from the oven, they're sliced relatively thin.
"I like to leave the skins on because it gives it a very rustic feel and more texture, and it has a nice sweetness to it but at the same time a little starchiness similar to a potato," Deal said.
To assemble the gratin is a study in layering. Slices of sunchoke are arrayed, slightly overlapping; the sauteed onions and garlic are draped across the top.. as are a few dollops of fresh butter; aged parmiggiano-reggiano is sprinkled on pretty generously, and the gratin is again placed in the oven. The final steps to the recipe are key: just before serving, he sprinkles over freshly-chopped thyme, chives and basil.. and then grates over some fresh lemon zest to give it a mild, citrusy jolt, which wakes up the starchy sunchokes and the cheesy top.
"It's sort of a warming feeling at least for me, I know when I was growing up it was, and the sunchoke again is something that's a little different you don't see a lot of it," said Deal.
Everybody thinks of mashed potatoes as the all-American side, but why not serve your guests something a little bit different this Thanksgiving? Sunchokes certainly fit the bill, they're easy to find and they're delicious. Happy Thanksgiving.
500 S. Dearborn
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In mixing bowl toss whole sunchokes in olive oil, salt and pepper. Place on baking sheet and roast in oven until slightly tender. About 20 minutes. Meanwhile, place a medium sized sauté pan on medium heat. Add a small amount of olive oil and onion. Cook onion stirring constantly until tender. Add garlic slices. Continue to cook until garlic is cooked. Careful not to burn. Remove pan from heat and set aside.
Once sunchokes have cooled to room temperature slice into 1/2" pieces. In baking dish or gratin style pan place one layer of the sunchokes. Season with salt and pepper. Next add another layer of the sunchokes, seasoning accordingly. Spread onion mixture and butter cubes evenly across the pan. Spread grated cheese evenly across gratin. Place back in oven for 30 minutes and cook until cheese has melted and browned nicely. To finish, remove pan from oven, sprinkle with fresh herbs and grate fresh lemon zest across the top of the gratin. Serve immediately.