Fresh Bites: Jerusalem artichokes
Tubers have a hint of artichoke flavour that shines in soups, roasts, gratins and other recipes.
Inside, he knows he’ll find bagfuls of knobby Jerusalem artichokes, caked in mud, harvested from our narrow back-lane garden.
The sturdy stalks with sad, frost-wilted leaves stand a good 12 feet (3.5 metres) tall. A month ago they formed a green jungle, yellow daisylike flowers waving high above our heads.
I always plan to dig up just a few stalks, enough for a pot of ivory-coloured soup, with its sweet, nutty flavour. And another handful to scrub and roast whole alongside chicken or beef. But once I start collecting the tubers, dangling from the exposed roots like beige Christmas ornaments, it’s hard to stop.
These potato-like creatures bear no relation to Jerusalem or artichokes. Helianthus tuberosus is native to eastern North America and belongs to the sunflower family, girasole in Italian. But you might taste a hint of artichoke flavour.
In the 1960s, a California organic farmer coined the name sunchoke, and I recently saw it named sunflower choke. The name game continues.
I just took a peek in the fridge. Guess what we’re having for dinner for the next week.
BUY & STORE
Though available year-round, Jerusalem artichokes are sweetest in fall and winter.
- Choose firm, dry tubers with no green patches. Avoid soft spots or wrinkled skin.
- Commercially-grown Jerusalem artichokes are smoother and more even in size than my homegrown knobs.
- Refrigerate in a plastic bag with a piece of paper towel to absorb excess moisture.
- Use within a week.
- Scrub the thin skin well under running water to remove dirt.
- They’re a pain to peel for soup, but worth the effort. Use a sharp paring knife.
- Peeling is optional for roasting, steaming, stir-frying or serving raw.
- If using raw with a dip or in a salad, sprinkle with lemon juice to prevent discoloration.
- Check often for doneness. Overcooked artichokes turn bland and mushy inside.
- Boil or steam: Scrub, cut in chunks and boil or steam with a squeeze of lemon juice for 5 to 15 minutes, depending on size, until just tender. Serve whole or mash with milk, salt, pepper and browned butter.
- Gratin: Precook 1 lb (450 g) sliced artichokes 8 minutes. Arrange in a baking dish with one sautéed onion, 1/2 cup (125 mL) grated gruyere or cheddar cheese, bread crumbs and a few dots of butter. Pour 1/2 cup warm milk seasoned with nutmeg, salt and pepper on top. Bake 20 minutes at 375F (190C) until bubbling and lightly browned.
- Pickle with cider vinegar.
- Soup: Peel and chop 1 lb (500 g) chokes and one potato. Sauté 2 leeks in butter, coat tubers with oil, add 4 cups (1 L) chicken or vegetable stock and simmer 30 minutes or until tender. Purée with immersion blender or in batches in blender. Finish with 1/2 cup (125 mL) milk or cream and garnish with parsley.
- Salad: For a sweet, refreshing crunch, grate into coleslaw, or cube and toss with apples and nuts with a lemony dressing.
- Roast: Scrub and cut in even chunks if necessary. Toss in a little olive oil in a roasting pan, season with salt and pepper and bake at 350F until just tender, 35 to 60 minutes. Or add to chicken or roast meats for the last 30 minutes of cooking.
- People with sensitive stomachs call Jerusalem artichokes fartichokes. The culprit is the tubers’ high inulin content, a healthy soluble fibre that’s not as easily digested as other carbohydrates. Experts advise eating them in moderation.
Roast Jerusalem artichokes and potatoes with lemon and sage
1 lb (500 g) small potatoes, washed
1 lb (500 g) Jerusalem artichokes, scrubbed, sliced 1/4 inch (5 mm) thick
4 cloves garlic, peeled, crushed
3 tbsp (45 mL) olive oil
2 tbsp (30 mL) coarsely chopped sage
1 tsp (5 mL) salt
1/2 tsp (2 mL) freshly ground black pepper
1 lemon, thinly sliced, seeded
250 g cherry or grape tomatoes
1 cup (250 mL) kalamata olives, pitted (optional)
2 tbsp (30 mL) coarsely chopped Italian parsley
Preheat oven to 400F (200 C).
Place potatoes in a large saucepan and cover with plenty of salted water. Bring to a boil and simmer 15 minutes, until half cooked. Drain. Cool slightly, then cut in half lengthwise. Place on a large baking sheet.
Add sliced artichokes to potatoes with garlic, olive oil, sage, salt and pepper. Mix everything well with your hands and place in the oven.
After vegetables have roasted about 30 minutes, add sliced lemon and stir with a wooden spoon. Return to oven for 20 minutes, then add cherry tomatoes and olives. Stir well and cook for a further 15 minutes.
Remove from oven, stir in chopped parsley and transfer to serving dish.
Makes 4 to 6 servings.
Published in the Toronto Star, Nov. 14, 2013