April’s not so bad. Despite random snow squalls followed by days of sad grey rain and waiting – it’s the month of our modest spring harvest! Not only do we get to dig up parsnips, but dear jerusalem artichokes, those knobby little wonders that swell in a patch of our garden year after year.
Jerusalem artichokes do not resemble artichokes, so get that out of your head. Sometimes called j-chokes or sunchokes, they are a member of the sunflower family and bloom daisy-like flowers atop tall stalks that stand sturdy on gnarly roots.
Those tubers we eat. They are easier for us to grow than almost anything.
On a snow-less spring day, when we’re sure the ground has thawed, we clear out the dead dry stalks from last year’s plants.
We feel around underground for the cold damp tubers and throw them in a bucket.
We clean them in water, scrubbing dirt out of their bony surfaces.
We dry them – a spread out collection on newspaper – before storing in poked-hole bags in the fridge.
And that’s it for the whole year!
No planting, weeding, watering, mulching – nothing more.
Some of the tubers get left in the ground and send up rugged new plants for the next season, thus perpetuating our annual spring treasure hunt.
What can you do with this funny-looking veg?
Boil it, roast it, stir-fry, have it raw. Cook it in a stew, a casserole, a gratin. Mash it with potatoes or add it to risotto. Do to it things you’d do to any plant.
Like all their rooty relatives, give them a wash and you’ll see they’re pretty. They look like ginger or turmeric, but they taste like comfort and chestnuts. Roasted in lots of olive oil, they are a silky, crisp, brown-edged sensation, bursting flavor in every earthy soft bite.
Maybe I’m partial to this unassuming, neglected little veggie because it grows native here, unlike so many others we struggle to cultivate. That makes me want to appreciate it and encourage its consumption.
But it would be ungracious if I didn’t mention that they give gas to some people. It’s happened to us before (oh uncomfortable nights, rolling in bed…).
My advice? Leave them in the ground all winter. If you’re buying or eating them in spring, you should be safe. Also, don’t eat too many at one time.
This edible tuber grows here, so I think we should pay attention to it. It’s nutritious and amazingly delicious, so why would we ignore it? We should make the jerusalem artichoke our friend. It’s practically free folks. Let’s eat it!
Jerusalem Artichoke Pate
I was going to make a roasted-garlic hummus, but then I had the brilliant idea of using j-chokes instead of chickpeas. The sunflower seeds seemed like a natural fit, being of the same family.
1/3 cup raw sunflower seeds
1 bulb garlic
2 cups jerusalem artichokes
juice from 1/2 a lemon
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Slice the top off the garlic bulb and put it in a small oven-proof container. Pour over a teaspoon or two of olive oil and sprinkle with salt and thyme. Cover with tin foil and bake 45 minutes.
Prepare the jerusalem artichokes.
Wash and scrub them, top and tail them, cut them into pieces more or less the same size.
Put them in a roasting pan with generous amounts of olive oil, salt and pepper.
Roast for 15 minutes, give them a stir, then roast for 15 minutes more.
Toast the sunflower seeds. This should take 3-5 minutes.
When everything is roasted, you can put it all together.
Take the skin off the garlic cloves and pop them in the food processor with the sunflower seeds, sunchokes and lemon. Add more olive oil (about 3 Tablespoons), salt (about 1/2 teaspoon) and pepper to taste.
That’s all – now you can eat it.
It’s good on toast.