Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Celebrating Sunchokes

We moved into our house in early October, 2003, when the overcrowded back yard looked beautiful with one of just about everything finishing out the season. But the enormous decorative artichokes along the deck seemed useless to me. They took up an inordinate amount of space and offered little pleasure. We dug them out when they died away and happily lived artichoke-free for several years.

So when Tom brought home a couple of Jerusalem artichoke starts that were given to him at work, I was not too excited. Besides our earlier artichoke experience, I remember once attempting to eat one of those spiny things that require peeling the tiny leaves to get to the flesh, just for the joy of dipping it in melted butter. (WikiHow shares 11 steps involved in eating an artichoke. That's way too much trouble for me!)

And then there's the joke I've heard more than once since marrying into the Kauffman family. Sign seen in the produce department: Artichokes 2 for $1.00. (Translation -- Artie chokes two for a dollar. If you don't get the joke right off, don't worry about it.)

All these thoughts popped into my mind when Tom carried the starter plants home, then made a place for them in the garden. As it turns out, these lovely Jerusalem artichokes were like noting I'd ever experienced before.

They are a root plant, and just two or three are capable of providing quite a crop. They were outside the kitchen window, and they grew tall. Early on one of them got uprooted in the wind, and we tried a few sunchokes, as they are nicknamed. They were quite small and a lot of work to clean and prepare, but my, oh, my, were they tasty! I didn't have to peel them but I did have to scrub them, then I sliced them and seasoned them a bit and popped them in the oven. I thought I was roasting them, but later I discovered how to truly roast vegetables. Hang on, I'll get to that.

The early birds were sweet, but it's recommended that you wait till after the first frost to harvest them. By early October they towered above the top of the kitchen window. In mid-October I cut the blossoms and brought them into the house. They lasted for days in their vase on the dining room table.

Finally, in mid-November, Tom harvested them. He filled a box with the knobby roots, which we have stored in the garage. Some of the sunchokes are slightly tuberous, others rounder, and most have several knobs on them.

Researching how to process and serve sunchokes has broadened my world. I'm not kidding, I love the things I've been able to do with them.

I used them fresh the other day in a salad with fennel and apples. It was delicious.

My greatest success, however, has come from roasting them with other vegetables. I filled my roasting pan nearly full the other day with the following vegetables, most of which were organic. Note that I didn't peel anything except the onions. Otherwise everything was cooked in its skin -- scrubbed, of course. I cut them up into bite-sized pieces. Here's my list:

green beans
Bosc pears

I drizzled olive oil over the vegetables, then seasoned them with salt, pepper, garlic, oregano, basil, and parsley, stirred them together, and put them, uncovered, in a preheated 450° oven. I roasted them for 30 minutes, then stirred them again and continued roasting until all the vegetables were cooked. (You may want to remove the veggies that are already cooked through after 30 minutes.)

The first night we had nothing else for dinner, just a dish of vegetables. That's got to be good for you! These are so delicious that I expect to make them at least twice a month. There are so many kinds of veggies you can roast, and I have some experimenting to do.

If you haven't already discovered roasted vegetables you will be surprised by how sweet they taste. They are somewhat caramelized and the flavors blend beautifully together. The pears I used were rock hard but they softened up nicely and added their own sweetness to the surprisingly natural sweetness of the carrots, parsnips, sunchokes, and even beets. So, so heavenly!

Well, I guess I'll go have a bowl of leftover roasted vegetables. I'm hoping that I will still have a little room left for some chocolate once I've eaten my veggies, but that's pretty unlikely.

No comments: