I am a planner. I plan meals as a profession. I almost always try to figure out how I’m going to spend my days well in advance so I can be productive. But I have long known that spontaneity needs to play a much bigger role in my life. Last Sunday morning was a fine case in point…
Sunday has become blog day. For days in advance I scour my brain and culinary websites and talk with friends and fellow foodies, searching for a fun new topic to explore. Last week I thought I had zeroed in on the perfect subject – spaghetti squash. It is still winter after all and squash is virtually synonymous with this season. Off to the farmer’s market I went to search for this huge, yellow, rugby ball-shaped vegetable. Sadly, my pursuit was in vain. They were nowhere to be found. A friendly farmer finally explained that the spaghetti squash comes early in the winter season and, while they are readily available at many grocery stores, they no longer grace the arsenals of local growers. Bugger.
Then my eyes settled on a bin full of small, dirt-covered, oddly-shaped tubers. The Jerusalem artichoke. Bingo. Something I had wanted to try for as long as I can remember. And I need to come clean here. Though a self-professed foodie, I had never tried them. This is a bit embarrassing considering almost all my favorite TV chefs inevitably navigate to these root vegetables. I can’t recall a season of my beloved Top Chef when a contestant hasn’t whipped up a creamy Jerusalem artichoke purée upon which to perch seared scallops or another equally delectable morsel. So I figured it was high time to take them for a spin in my kitchen.
Curious about their name and history, I jumped online to investigate. Firstly, they are not artichokes nor are they related to them. Rather, they are a species of sunflower. Hence their nickname “sunchoke.” Secondly, they have no relation to Jerusalem. The origin of the name is a bit ambiguous – I could not find a definitive explanation. Quite baffling.
Though their origin is mysterious, their health benefits are well documented. They are low in saturated fat, cholesterol and sodium. They are also a good source of a number of nutrients including iron and potassium. And, when compared to regular potatoes (which they commonly are), they’re relatively low in calories and have a lower glycemic index – which means they are a better choice for those looking to avoid major spikes in blood sugar levels. Just as important – I think they taste really good. Their texture resembles a crisp potato or the lesser known jicama. They are delicately sweet with a slight nutty flavor.
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Roasted Jerusalem Artichokes
As with most winter vegetables, I found that roasting Jerusalem artichokes produced the most savory result – and it was the easiest method. I paired them with fresh rosemary to bring out their earthy quality, but garlic, lemon and/or other herbs are also delicious options.
- 1/2 pound Jerusalem artichokes
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary
- Kosher salt
- Olive Oil cooking spray
Heat your oven to 425 degrees.
Thoroughly wash the Jerusalem artichokes. Cut uniformly into approximately ¼ inch thick slices. Many will resemble pieces from a jignaw puzzle. Some of the knobs can be removed and cut separately for a more uniform chop. Immediately place them in a bowl and toss with olive oil. Scatter with rosemary and salt and toss again.
Pour the slices onto a baking pan that has been coated in olive oil spray (you just don’t want these guys to stick to the pan). Place the pan in the heated oven and roast for 15 minutes. Toss or turn them over and return to the oven for 10 minutes or until tender. Run them under the broiler for a few minutes to brown the edges, watching carefully. Salt liberally and serve immediately.
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I must be candid. I was a bit reluctant to include the following recipe. Not because it doesn’t taste good. It does. However it calls for peeling the Jerusalem Artichokes – which is a bit off-putting for two reasons. One, the majority of the nutrients are, purportedly, just below the surface of the skin. So you are losing the lion’s share of their nutritional value. Secondly, peeling these little buggers is rather torturous. The hills and valleys that constitute their surface make it challenging to remove the peel without taking out significant chunks of the “meat.” I chose to use a paring knife to remove the peel as I could more easily navigate around the knobs and dents. And next time around, I will most definitely look for the ones that have a smoother, more uniform surface. Though I enjoy the strangeness of the contorted knobs, a more level exterior would be a welcome alternative.
All that said, I couldn’t imagine having bags of these gems, fresh out of the ground, in my house without at least trying this dish that so many of my culinary heroes whip up on whim on TV. And after tasting the sumptuous purée, I now understand why. It’s one of my new favorites.
Grilled Portabella Mushrooms with Jerusalem Artichoke Purée
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 3 cloves garlic, finely sliced
- 1 large shallot, finely diced
- Salt, to taste
- 1 1/2 pound Jerusalem artichokes (about 3 cups cubed)
- 1 pint milk
- 1 cup vegetable stock
- 1 large Portabella Mushroom
- 1 tablespoon chives (optional), finely chopped
Wash and peel the Jerusalem artichokes and cut into medium cubes, placing in cold water immediately (they can tend to quickly discolor).
In a saucepot, heat olive oil over low heat. Add garlic and sauté until golden. Add shallot and cook until soft.
When the garlic and shallot mixture is tender, add the Jerusalem artichokes and cover with milk and vegetable stock. Add a bit of salt. Increase heat to medium and bring to a slow simmer. Cook until Jerusalem artichokes are tender, about an 30 minutes.
Remove from heat and purée in a blender until smooth. Do not add all the liquid – start with just a 1/4 cup or so – or the purée will be too thin. And be careful to refrain from over blending – mix until just combined. Adjust seasoning with salt. Remove from blender and place in a clean pan. Cover and keep warm on the top of the stove.
While the Jerusalem artichokes are simmering, you can prep the mushrooms for grilling. Brush any dirt or grit off of mushrooms and lop off the very bottom of the stem. Slice the mushroom into 1/4 inch slices. Pat dry with a paper towel and set aside until you have finished prepareing your purée.
This next part is pure Julie Child and, yes I learned it from Julie & Julia. In a sauté pan, heat olive oil over high until very hot. Add the mushrooms – ensuring they are in a single layer and not touching. Allow to cook for a few minutes. Gently shake the pan and turn over each individual mushroom slice. Continue to cook another minute or two. Watch them closely and turn another time so both sides are nicely browned. Remove from the heat when they start to release their juices. Season with salt and pepper.
Make sure the purée is still warm – if not you can heat it up a bit on low before serving. Divide the purée onto two plates and place sautéed mushrooms delicately on top. Top with chopped chives and enjoy.
Note: this purée would be a lovely accompaniment to any main dish – seafood, grilled meats or any other sautéed vegetables. It is also delicious with a drizzling of basamic reduction – which I blogged about here.