Jerusalem artichokes are a ‘wonder winter vegetable’

Jerusalem artichokes are a ‘wonder winter vegetable’. If you plant one you will be rewarded with a terrific crop of 10-15 small misshapen tubers that look a bit like knobbly potatoes.

They are in season from November to late February-early March and if you have a few in your garden you can just dig, wash and cook immediately. If they are out of the earth for longer they usually need to be peeled for soups or purees. They spread like mad and can be left in the ground until March or early April when they begin to soften. The name is somewhat confusing because it is neither an artichoke nor does it come from Jerusalem, its roots are in North America, and according to Jane Grigson in her timeless classic ‘The Vegetable Book’, “ French explorers saw them first in 1605 in Massachusetts, a crop grown by Indians at Nausett Harbour, Cape Cod. One of the party was the great Samuel Champlain, founder of Quebec, who described them in writing of his journeys, as roots ‘with the taste of artichokes’, ie. bottoms of the globe artichokes of Europe. That accounts for the artichoke in the name, though I wouldn’t say the likeness in taste was strong, unless they are dug and eaten immediately.

This new vegetable, held by some to be more suitable for pigs than men, was soon grown abundantly in France, and was recognized as a relative of the sunflower (which had been introduced from the New World some thirty years before), it was another of those plants whose flowerheads twist around with the sun. In 1617 a French merchant in London, John de Franqueville, who was greatly interested in plants and gardens, gave ‘two small rootes’ of artichoke to the English botanist John Goodyer. Goodyer planted them in his garden at Buriton, under the high Hampshire downs), and the two tubers flourished and gave him a peck of roots, ‘wherewith I stored Hampshire’, Goodyer said.

Can’t you imagine de Franqueville telling Goodyer that of course the plant was a girasol (a French as well as an English word), a heliotropium, a turnsol, whose flowers, if it produced any, would turn with the sun; and can’t you imagine Goodyer’s Hampshire neighbours discovering from him in turn that it was a ‘girasol artichoke’ they were planting, a name they quickly changed to ‘Jerusalem artichoke’, which at least sounded satisfactory and intriguing in a vague way, heliotropism and Indians across the water not meaning much to them?”

So why a wonder food, well Professor Cassells of UCC’s Dept of Plant Science, once explained to me that artichokes have the highest inulin content of any vegetable. Inulin helps to keep a healthy gut flora, balances blood sugar and introduces the good bacteria into our systems, it is particularly important after we’ve had a course of antibiotics which kill off all the beneficial bacteria as well as the baddies. They also contain Vitamin C, phosphorus and potassium and are a very good source of iron.

They unquestionably cause flatulence in some people, hence their nickname ‘fartichokes’, but its all to the good!

Now how to prepare and cook them. Jersusalem artichokes can be boiled, baked, stewed, braised, roasted, pan fried or deep fried. Some of the newer varieties like fuseau are quite smooth, but I’m very partial to an old variety that we’ve grown at Ballymaloe for ions. I’ve no idea of the name but the flavour is superb. They can be boiled like potatoes in boiling salted water but take less time. Drain and eat with a little butter or a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and sea salt.

They also roast beautifully, just scrub, split lengthwise or cut into half inch rounds. Toss in a little extra virgin olive oil or duck fat and roast – they’ll take about 20 minutes.

Braising is another delicious way of cooking this versatile root. Peel and slice and pop them into a heavy casserole with just a little melted butter to toss the slices in, season, cover and cook on a gentle heat for 15 minutes or so, then turn off the heat and allow them to continue cooking in the residual heat.

Jerusalem artichokes cook unevenly so this is a good method.

They also make a terrific soup, gratin and of course puree, mash either on their own or mixed with potatoes or other root vegetables. They have a particular affinity with game but are also divine with shellfish, particularly scallops.

Jerusalem artichokes, like parsnips, also make delicious chips but they are very high in sugar so deepfry at 150-160C rather than 200C otherwise they will burn quickly.

From the gardener’s point of view, they grow to a height of five feet and have sunflower like flowers which twist to follow the sun. They can be used to create a hedge or some have used them to make a summer maze or labyrinth.

They are a favourite of pheasants so they are grown as food crops on many estates where they rear birds for shooting.

Interestingly they are complementary flavours – see pheasant with artichokes.

How to prepare – scrub well, peel with a swivel top peeler and drop into acidulated water (water with a dash of vinegar or lemon juice.) Like celeriac, salsify, scorzonera and globe artichokes they tend to discolour as you peel. Cook as soon as possible to preserve the vitamin content.

Roast Jerusalem Artichokes
The winter vegetable is particularly good with goose, duck or pheasant.
Serves 4 to 6

1lb (450g) Jerusalem artichokes, well scrubbed.
2 tablespoons sunflower or olive oil
Salt and freshly ground pepper
A few rosemary or thyme sprigs, optional

Preheat the oven to 400°F/200°C/ gas mark 6. Leave the artichokes whole or cut in half lengthways, if large. Toss the Jerusalem artichokes with the oil. Season well with salt. Bake in a shallow gratin dish or roasting tin for 20 to 30 minutes. Test with the tip of a knife – they should be mostly tender but offer some resistance. Sprinkle with thyme or rosemary. Season with pepper and serve.

Artichoke Soup with Rosemary – from Grow and Cook by Johann and Tom Doorley
Serves 4

2 tbsp lemon juice or vinegar
15 Jerusalem artichokes
3 cloves of garlic
1 onion
3 tbsp olive oil
2 sprigs of rosemary
850ml (1½ pints) chicken stock or water
Salt and pepper

Pour the lemon juice or vinegar into a big bowl of water. Quickly peel the artichokes and add to the water and lemon juice to prevent them from turning grey. Gently crush the garlic with the flat of a knife and remove the skin. Peel and slice the onion.

Pour the oil into a wide pot and put it on a medium heat. Add the garlic, onion, rosemary and artichokes. When the contents of the pot start to sizzle, cover with a lid and turn the heat to low. Let them cook away in their own steam, shaking the pot and stirring every 5 minutes or so. If during this time the onion starts to get too dark, add some of the water or stock; you need to let the vegetables colour a little, but not burn.

When the vegetables begin to soften, add half the water or stock and bring to the boil and simmer for 15 minutes, until the artichokes are soft. Let the soup cool a little, or add some more of the water or stock. Fish out the rosemary sprigs and puree the contents of the pot.

Return the puree to a clean pot and taste, seasoning as necessary. Thin the soup with the rest of the water or stock, bring back to the boil and simmer for 3-4 minutes. Serve.

Pheasant with Jerusalem Artichokes
Pheasant adore Jerusalem Artichokes, most of the large estates plant a patch specially as a treat for them. It seemed logical to cook them together, and indeed it turns out to be a very good marriage of flavours. Casserole roasting, the cooking method used here is a particularly good way to cook pheasant especially if its not in the first flush of youth.

Chicken or guinea fowl may also be cooked in this manner.

1 plump pheasant
25g (1oz) butter
salt and freshly ground pepper
900g (2lb) Jerusalem artichokes

Garnish
chopped parsley or flat parsley sprigs

Preheat the oven to 180ºC/350ºF/gas mark 4.

Smear a little butter on the breast of the pheasant and brown it in the casserole over a gentle heat. Meanwhile, peel and slice the artichokes into 1cm/½ inch pieces, remove the pheasant. Add a little butter to the casserole toss the Jerusalem artichoke slices in the butter. Season with salt and pepper and sprinkle maybe a tablespoon of water over the top. Then replace the pheasant tucking it right down into the sliced artichokes so they come up around the sides of the pheasant. Cover with a butter wrapper and the lid of the saucepan.

Cook for a further 1-1¼ hours.

Remove the pheasant as soon as it is cooked, strain and de-grease the cooking liquid if there is need but usually there’s virtually no fat on it. The juices of the pheasant will have flavoured the artichokes deliciously. Arrange the artichokes on a hot serving dish, carve the pheasant into 4 portions and arrange on top.

The artichokes always break up a little – that is their nature. Spoon some juices over the pheasant and artichokes and serve scattered with chopped parsley or flat parsley sprigs.

Braised Jerusalem Artichokes
Serves 4

1 ½ lbs (675g) Jerusalem artichokes
1 oz (30g) butter
1 dessertsp. water
Salt and freshly-ground pepper
Chopped parsley

Peel the artichokes thinly and slice ¼ inch (5mm) thick. Melt the butter in a cast-iron casserole, toss the artichokes and season with salt and freshly-ground pepper. Add water and cover with a paper lid (to keep in the steam) and the saucepan lid. Cook on a low heat or put in a moderate oven, 180°C/350°F/regulo 4, until the artichokes are soft but still keep their shape, 15-20 minutes approx. (Toss every now and then during cooking.)

Serve sprinkled with chopped parsley.

If cooking on the stove top rather than the oven turn off the heat after 10 minutes approx. – the artichokes will continue to cook in the heat & will hold their shape.

Foolproof Food

Fluffy Lemon Pudding
This is an old fashioned family pudding which separates into two quite distinct layers when it cooks; it has a fluffy top and a creamy lemon base. This is a good time of year for lemons and other citrus fruit so make the most of them.
Serves 4-6

1 ½ ozs (40g) butter
9 ozs (250g) castor sugar
3 ozs (75g) flour
3 eggs (preferably free range)
2 unwaxed lemons
10 fl ozs (300ml) milk

Decoration
icing sugar

1 x 2 pint pie dish

Cream the butter well. Add the castor sugar and beat well. Separate the egg yolks and add one by one, then stir in the flour. Grate the rind of 2 lemons, squeeze and strain it’s juice and add. Lastly add the milk. Whisk the egg whites stiffly in a bowl and fold gently into the lemon mixture. Pour into a pie dish and bake in a moderate oven, 180C/350F/regulo 4, for 40 minutes approx. Dredge with icing sugar.

Serve immediately with softly whipped cream.

Hot Tips

Cookery Classes at Snugboro 2008

Rory O’Connell teaches Intensive 1 day classes at his home near Ballycotton, Co Cork, private classes or workshops for groups or individuals can of course be organized – corporate groups, friends, hen parties! All will be catered for.

www.rgoconnell.com rory@rgoconnell.com Tel 086-8516917

For anyone who wants to grow organically Bob Flowerdew provides the answers in a brilliantly accessible way in his new book Going Organic published by Kyle Cathie.

His commonsense, practical approach and easy to read style has endeared him to gardeners for over 20 years. He takes the readers through basic gardening techniques, common pitfalls, pest and disease problems and companion planting. A gem to get people started on the magic of growing your own – so get going and I’ll provide the cooking and salad ideas.

The organisers of Slow Food Limerick & Region are planning to offer monthly Slow Food events in 2008, starting on January 26th with Slow Food for Babies. Slow Food for babies will explore the Slow Food options available to young babies and toddlers, with a strong focus on local, fresh produce. How to best answer the nutritional requirements of babies and toddlers and what effect food can have on a child’s development will be the central issues looked at.

The event is kindly sponsored by the Hunt Museum and will take place in the Hunt Museum at 3pm – 4.30pm on Sunday January 27th and all are welcome.

For further information or bookings contact Josephine Page 087 9460490 or josephinepage@hotmail.com

The speakers are Dr Moya Stout, Psychologist and Julie Dargan, Nutritionist.