In Chile, they were almost lost in time—almost. Along with majoram and salisfy, these humble tubers were cultivated for centuries in Chilean gardens, prized for its beautiful flower. According to antique Chilean recipes from the early 20th century, when the flower died, this papa, potato, was dug up, peeled, and cooked with a white sauce, or transformed into a simple crema, creamy soup.
Today, there’s thankfully no danger of extinction and in fact, I would say that Jerusalem Artichokes, or papas topinambor as they are called in Spanish, are living a total resurrection in the country’s markets, creative restaurants, chef and home kitchens. Harvested in the Central Valley during May and June, this winter tuber is actually a cousin of the artichoke (hence its name) that exudes a nutty, creamy texture when cooked. Its appearance is speckled and knobby and it has a thin skin similar to ginger.
To get started experimenting with this underutilized vegetable, it doesn’t take too much imagination. It is as versatile and tasty as any potato. In fact, you’ll wonder why Jerusalem Artichokes didn’t become part of your produce repertoire earlier. Below are some easy suggestions for preparation. Just remember that once they are peeled and cut, they need to go in acidulated water (water with a squeeze of lemon juice) to avoid discoloring. You will surely become an addict of the nutty flavor. It’s a vice.
Mashed “potatoes”: substitute chokes for the potatoes. The consistency will be a little less starchier so easy on the quantities of cream and butter. Add them little by little (I find an immersion blender works beautiful for a consistent texture). Unusual, delicate and nutty, this pairs with everything from osso buco to seared ahi tuna and has been a huge hit at every dinner party ever served.
Roasted: Toss with a touch of olive oil, sea salt, and pepper. In the US, where you can find things I love which we don’t get in Chile like turnips and parsnips which would make a gorgeous mélange of root vegetables for a side dish.
Steamed or boiled: Cook till tender then flash sautee in a little brown butter with minced herbs or merkén.
Gratin: Slice thinly, layering between Yukon Gold potatoes in a casserole dish. Add a little cream, butter, thyme, and top with good quality Parmesan. For the Cheddar freaks out there, try this grated on the top. It’s divine.
Soup: I also made an exquisite chilled cream soup with the chokes courtesy of Chef Rick Tramonto’s Amuse-Bouche book from his restaurant Tru in Chicago. Below is my own creation which was born on one of those Friday’s before market the next morning when the only thing lurking in my vegetable drawer is root vegetable leftovers and a few herbs. Perfecto for a chilly autumn night–the weather in Chile right now.
Jerusalem Artichoke-Sweet Carrot Soup
75g/3 oz. butter
600g/1.5 pounds carrots, peeled and chopped
3 sticks celery, chopped
1 medium onion, peeled and chopped
750g/1 ¾ pounds Jerusalem artichokes peeled and cut into cubes
1.5 liters/6 cups chicken stock (or substitute with vegetable stock)
Sea Salt and Pepper to taste
2 Tablespoons Minced Chives for garnish
Crème fraiche (optional)
In a stock pot, melt the butter. Add the onion and celery and sweat for 5-7 minutes until translucent. Add the carrots and chokes and cover with stock. Cook for 15-20 minutes until the vegetables are completely tender.
Cool and then puree in a blender.
To serve, ladle soup into bowls and drizzle with crème fraiche. Sprinkle chives and serve hot.