Sunchoke Season

The People's Food Co-op is such a great little store. I love that you can walk there from downtown (the only grocery store supporting those buzzwords of the moment - urban density). They have the best salad bar in town and it's a place I count on to get my Croissant Shop pastries. It's great that they are just an apple toss from the Farmer's Market, and that the store is small yet somehow seems to carry everything I need for groceries and household items.  My main quibble with them is that I think they could be carrying more "made in Michigan" stuff. 

However, in the spring I don't get to ride that pony quite as much.  Last time I was there, next to the fiddlehead ferns was a basket of Needle Lane's sunchokes, aka Jerusalem artichokes. The knobbly roots were so vibrantly fresh and unblemished, looking a lot like young ginger, that I had to buy some even though I had only a passing suspicion for what to do with them .

I hadn't realized that they are native to the US, and grow from Maine to South Dakota and south from there to Texas and northern Floria.  Trusty old Wikipedia tells me:

"Despite its name, the Jerusalem artichoke has no relation to Jerusalem, and it is not a type of artichoke, though they are in the same family. The name Jerusalem is due to folk etymology; when the Jerusalem artichoke was first discovered by Europeans it was called Girasole, the Italian word for sunflower. The Jerusalem artichoke is a type of sunflower, in the same genus as the garden sunflower Helianthus annuus. Over time the name Girasole transformed into Jerusalem, and to avoid confusion some people have recently started to refer to it as sunchoke or sunroot-which is closer to the original Native American name for the plant.

The artichoke part of the Jerusalem artichoke's name comes from the taste of its edible tuber. Samuel de Champlain, the French explorer, sent the first samples of the plant to France, noting that its taste was similar to an artichoke.

Jerusalem artichokes were first cultivated by the Native Americans (who called them "sun roots") long before the arrival of theEuropeans; this extensive cultivation makes the exact native range of the species obscure. The French explorer Samuel de Champlain found them being grown at Cape Cod in 1605."

Raw Jerusalem artichokes are quite a bit tastier than raw potatoes and crispier. I think cooked is the better way to go, however.  I saw a couple of recipes for gratins that looked good, especially one with fresh sage. But the flavor of the sunchoke is subtle - warm and nutty, reminiscent of chestnuts - and I didn't want to overwhelm it. Not to mention that my sage is looking pretty shriveled right now.  Since I adore using up the odds and ends in the fridge, this was a perfect use of that nice container of chicken broth I've been forgetting in the deep freeze. And it was a perfect spring dinner with a few greens for a salad, a baguette and a bit of cheese.  

Girasole Soup

1/2 C. finely chopped celery

1/2 C. finely chopped onion

1-2 T. olive oil

3 smallish cloves garlic, 2 minced one left whole

4 large Jerusalem Artichokes, scrubbed and chopped into 1" pieces

8 small potatoes, peeled and chopped into 1" pieces

1/2 C. dry white wine

2 C. rich chicken broth

1 C. whole milk

salt and pepper

Saute onion, celery and minced garlic in the oil until aromatic and tender. Add whole garlic, jerusalem artichokes and potatoes. Cover with chicken broth and wine (add a little water, just to barely cover if you need it).  Simmer until very tender.  Puree mixture with an immersion blender or regular blender (cool first if using regular blender), then add milk to get the consistency that you'd like. Add salt and pepper to taste.  Mmmm, the nutty taste of the sunchokes is really yummy. 

I recently learned about local artist Melanie Boyle who makes gorgeous prints and paper cuts of native plants and sells her calendars and artwork locally through her Clever Lotus Studio. I wonder if she has something on the lovely sunchoke? 

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