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Key ingredient

By any name, Jerusalem artichokes are a delight

INTERACTIVE

Click here to return to the Holiday special

April 18, 2000
Web posted at: 2:06 p.m. EDT (1806 GMT)


In this story:

Serve raw or cooked

Take a cue from the masters

A root for winter

RELATED STORIES, SITES icon



ATLANTA (CNN) -- It's not difficult to understand why people are confused about Jerusalem artichokes. They don't come from Jerusalem, they aren't artichokes, and despite their exotic sounding name, they are actually a Canadian vegetable.

The Jerusalem artichoke is a root vegetable belonging to the Sunflower family. In "A Mediterranean Feast," Clifford Wright says the Jerusalem artichoke was introduced to France around 1607 from Canada. It arrived in Italy around 1617.

There are numerous theories on how Jerusalem became part of the name. Some believe it is a corruption of the Italian word "girasole," the name of the sunflower, which literally means "turn to the sun."

But Wright also cites a theory that Jerusalem is a corruption of Terneuzen, the town in Holland that exported this vegetable to England. To confuse matters even more, the French word for these knobby roots is "Topinambour," the name of a Brazilian troupe that just happened to be touring Europe at the time the vegetable was introduced.

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And, by the way, they are sometimes sold as "sunchokes."

Serve raw or cooked

No matter what the name, Jerusalem artichokes can be prepared in a number of ways. Peeled and sliced, they can be added raw to a green salad. The texture is something softer than a water chestnut. The taste is nutty with a tang similar to an artichoke heart.

One of the simplest ways to prepare Jerusalem artichokes is to peel them, cut them into shapes about the size of large olives, and simmer them in water until they are just cooked. To determine if they are done, plunge the tip of a sharp knife into the thickest part of the Jerusalem artichoke and lift the knife. If the Jerusalem artichoke is done, it will slide off the knife tip within a couple of seconds. It's better to leave the Jerusalem artichokes a little underdone because they turn mushy and lose their tang if overcooked.

When the Jerusalem artichokes are done, drain the pan, add butter and let it melt over low heat. Turn the Jerusalem artichokes in the butter to coat, season with salt and white pepper, garnish with chopped parsley and serve as you would potatoes for a lighter taste and fewer calories.

Simmered in chicken stock, Jerusalem artichokes take on a sweet, mellow flavor as they are bronzed by the stock. Prepared this way, they are an interesting contrast to slices of rare, pan seared T-bone steak napped with a rich Marchand de Vin sauce.

Take a cue from the masters

Chef Daniel Boulud includes thick and hearty Jerusalem artichoke soup in the "Cafe Boulud Cookbook." He begins with bacon, then adds onion, fennel, leek, celery and garlic as a base for the Jerusalem artichoke soup made with chicken stock and served with tiny sage croutons and crispy sage leaves fried in butter.

Marcella Hazan, the doyen of Italian cuisine, loves Jerusalem artichokes and includes more than a half dozen recipes spread among three of her cookbooks. In "Marcella Cucina," she simmers thin-sliced Jerusalem artichokes with browned pieces of chicken, garlic, capers and white wine to make a melting intense fricassee.

In "Marcella's Italian Kitchen," she combines Jerusalem artichokes with regular globe artichokes and broth to create an artichoke and Jerusalem artichoke soup.

One of the simplest and best of her creations, included in "Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking," is a sunchoke gratin made by parboiling the Jerusalem artichokes until they are tender, slicing them into 1/2 inch slices and then arranging them "roof tile fashion" in a buttered baking dish. The Jerusalem artichokes are then sprinkled with grated parmigiano-reggiano cheese and baked until a light gold crust forms on the top.

In the "Escoffier Cook Book," August Escoffier, the father of haute French cuisine, dips thick slices of Jerusalem artichokes in batter and fries them until brown in hot oil. In another recipe, he advises putting cooked Jerusalem artichokes through a food mill and mixing the puree with mashed potatoes, butter and milk.

A simple and delicious way of preparing Jerusalem artichokes is Escoffier's "Topinambours a' l'Anglaise." Jerusalem artichokes trimmed to the shape of large olives are cooked gently in butter until done. A bechamel sauce is spooned over the Jerusalem artichokes. Grating a little nutmeg over the artichokes finishes the dish.

A root for winter

Jerusalem artichokes (helianthus tuberosus) are available from early fall through the winter and into early spring in most of the United States. Daniel Boulud believes they are at the sweetest in the fall.

They don't store as well as potatoes. Look for tubers that are free from bruises and cracks and avoid those that feel mushy.

Freshly harvested Jerusalem artichokes contain 76 calories for a 3-ounce serving. As storage time increases and sugars change to starch, the calorie count increases. A 3-ounce serving contains 34 percent of the recommended daily dose of iron for adult men.

While they originated in Canada, Jerusalem artichokes can be grown in moderate climates worldwide. The Horticulture Program at Texas A&M University advises planting tubers in the spring and harvesting the artichokes in the fall. Plants may grow from 6 to 8 feet tall and produce a yellow flower similar to a Sunflower. The plants will die back in freezing weather but will emerge again in the spring.



RELATED STORIES:
'Savoring the flavors' -- the key to Daniel Boulud's cooking
December 6, 1999

RELATED SITES:
Texas A&M Horticulture Program
The Fire and The Hearth

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