Not-So-Jerusalem Artichokes aliased Sunchokes, Sunroots

October 20, 2012

As I kissed her the heat of her body increased, and it exhaled a wild, untamed fragrance.
~Gabriel Garcí­a Márquez

“Keep it simple, stupid” is an oft heard maxim coined by Kelly Johnson, famed systems engineer and aeronautical innovator. A mise en place freak. The KISS principle often reigns over the kitchen. So many toothsome cuisines — from Italian to South American to Malaysian to French to South Asian to Chinese to Russian to Singaporese to Southeast Asian to Latin American to Japanese to African, and so on — pursue the simplest solutions and tread the simplest paths with both components and techniques. By now, we know a simple plate is far from boring or dull. Food that is nothing more and nothing less than simplicity mastered with hints of restraint.

Jerusalem artichokes (Helianthus tuberosus), aka sunroots or sunchokes, are actually a perennial sunflower native to North America. Fleshy rhizomes (underground stems) bear small tubers which are elongated and uneven, vaguely resembling ginger root. They vary in color from pale brown to white, red or purple. Sun chokes are subterranean tubers which are more difficult to harvest than potatoes because the tubers cling to the roots and become intertwined. Cultivated varieties of sunchokes grow in clumps close to the main rhizome while wild ones grow at the end of root. They can grow from 3-12 feet high with large leaves and flowers that are 1 1/2-3″ in diameter.

Sunchokes were discovered growing wild on the eastern seaboard in pre-colonial days. Samuel de Champlain first encountered sunchokes growing in an Indian garden in Cape Cod in the early 17th century. Because he likened them to artichokes, he dubbed them so. Native Americans called them sunroots and introduced these perennial tubers to the pilgrims who adopted them as a staple. Apparently the French began growing these tubers successfully because they were sold by Parisian street vendors who named them topinambours, the French word for tuber. The origin of the nomenclature “Jerusalem” is rather hazy, although some surmise the name to be a corruption of the Italian griasole, which translates as “turning to the sun.”

I was graced with some of these divine gnarly knots by a kind farmer at the city market, and they are well worth the short trip from oven to table. Simple enough. So, when served or later, don’t forget to KISS the cook…wherever.  If you are cooking/eating solo, just use your imagination.

ROASTED JERUSALEM ARTICHOKES

1 lbs+ Jerusalem artichokes, cleaned and halved
Extra virgin olive oil
Fresh thyme leaves, chopped
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 350 F

In a large glass bowl, drizzle halved artichokes with olive oil, working them gently with your fingers (the world’s greatest kitchen tool). Spread oiled artichokes on a sheet pan lined with foil. Sprinkle with fresh thyme leaves and season with salt and pepper. Roast until fork tender, about 40-45 minutes.  Of course, cooking time will vary depending on your oven and artichoke size.

JERUSALEM ARTICHOKES + BALSAMIC VINEGAR

2 T extra virgin olive oil
2 lb Jerusalem artichokes, scrubbed and quartered

Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
2 sprigs thyme
2 sprigs rosemary
1/4 C unsalted butter

3 T aged balsamic vinegar

Heat oil in a heavy large skillet over medium high until simmering, but not browned. Add artichokes and 1/4 cup water, seasoning with salt and pepper. Cover and cook until artichokes are tender, about 8-10 minutes. Then, uncover and cook more until water has evaporated and the artichokes begin to brown, about 8-10 minutes further and then remove from pan.

Add thyme, rosemary and butter to the pan and cook while stirring until the butter ultimately browns which takes about 4 minutes. Off the heat, add the balsamic vinegar, stirring and scraping. Spoon the browned butter over the artichokes and serve.

Pourboire: Sunchokes can be prepared mashed (peeled or not) with or without other vegetables such as potatoes, turnips, turnips, or celery root. They also can be served raw, openly sautéed, or boiled.

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