Jerusalem artichokes

If you`re wondering what to do with Jerusalem artichokes - here`s a simple guide that I`ve taken from the Winter section of my new book The Great British Vegetable Cookbook (see Books).  If you feel inspired, try making the Warm artichoke mousse with dried ceps (see below), it`s delicious, although I say so myself.   

There is something mysterious about Jerusalem artichokes.  They grow to the height of man in great tall clumps.  If the summer is long and hot, they will burst into bright yellow flowers that turn to follow the sun, just like their close relative, the sunflower.  You’d never guess that underneath their lush growth lie countless sweet-tasting tubers that can be turned into soups, sauces and salads.

 

At first bite, they have a subtle, almost smoky flavour that hints at their namesake, the globe artichoke. However, they have a problem: in the words of John Goodyer, who grew them in the early sixteenth century, ‘But in my judgment, which way soever they be drest and eaten they stir up and cause a filthie loathewsome stinking winde with the bodie, thereby causing the belly to bee much pained and tormented’.  It is true that they cause flatulence – but they taste so good!  The only solution is to eat them in moderation.

 

They are native to north-east America and, despite Mr Goodyer’s warnings, soon became popular amongst the poorer classes in Britain as a cheap nutritious food.  They’ve remained in cultivation ever since and are currently enjoying a renaissance amongst chefs who value their sophisticated flavour without having to worry about the consequences.

 

PRACTICALITIES

*  Choose firm artichokes, which are heavy for their size.  Scrub clean with plenty of water to remove any dirt from their crevices. Cut away any whiskery roots and dark tips. 

 

*  If your Jerusalem artichokes are relatively smooth, steaming or boiling in their skins and then peeling gives the best texture and flavour.  However, if they’re knobbly, it’s easier to peel them before cooking, in which case, drop into acidulated water as you peel them to prevent discolouration, and steam to ensure they retain their shape. 

 

*  I usually leave them unpeeled for artichoke soup.  This makes a lightly flecked soup.  If you want a perfect purée, peel before cooking.

 

CULINARY NOTES

*  Jerusalem artichokes have a wonderful earthy, nutty flavour, which is vaguely reminiscent of artichoke hearts. Sour or piquant-tasting ingredients, such as lemon juice, vinegar or mustard, work well with them as do bitter, salty and sweet foods - for example, Batavia, bacon, chicken stock and caramelised onions.

 

*  Like all root vegetables, Jerusalem artichokes can be turned into gratins, chips or simply sautéed in butter and oil.

 

 *  They are excellent served warm in hearty salads with endive leaves and crispy bacon, or turned into a silky puréed sauce and served with seared scallops or beef.

 

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