This is the first of on occasional post about what is happening in the garden through the seasons. I’m not an expert gardener and our garden is seriously troubled with strong winds. Both of these factors impact the success of our garden. There are a few vegetables however that nearly always flourish. Is it chance that these are also the vegetables I love to eat? The seasonal delights that bring joy to our table.
I first met the Jerusalem artichoke when I moved into a shared house in Wellington in 1986. Early in winter we discovered a knobbly vegetable in the garden and identified this as the Jerusalem artichoke, a vegetable none of us had previously encountered. We ate shared meals and had a Monday to Thursday cooking roster. We agreed that we needed to eat this “free” vegetable and we were all expected to produce a meal using this unfamiliar ingredient. Luckily there were five of us and so we rarely had to do more than two artichoke meals over the season.
The only recipe I knew was Palestine soup from Jane Grigson’s Vegetable Book. I enjoyed the taste, but I hated preparing them. They are so fiddly whether you attempt to peel them raw or cooked.
The Jerusalem artichoke is neither an artichoke nor does it have any connection with Jerusalem. When it was first encountered in America by Europeans, it was considered to taste similar to the globe artichoke. As a relative of the sunflower, it was called a girasole artichoke by the Italians and this became corrupted to Jerusalem.
I have made a few unsuccessful attempts over the years to get on better with the vegetable and then last year I visited my friends Helen and John at their olive grove in the Wairarapa and Helen offered me some Jerusalem artichokes from her garden. My relationship with the Jerusalem artichoke changed overnight from casual acquaintance to constant winter companion. The key to my change of heart was Helen’s throw away comment, “oh, I never peel them”. Jane Grigson suggests scrubbing and blanching, then rubbing the skins off. Still too much work. Just scrub them with a good firm vegetable brush. I sometimes soak them in cold water for a few minutes which loosens the dirt. Also, if you peel them before roasting, they will collapse in the pan and take on an undesirable sludgy texture.
I made my old friend Palestine soup, the only Jerusalem artichoke recipe in my repertoire. For four, you want about 200-250g artichokes. Sauté a chopped onion, crushed garlic and a finely chopped stick of celery in butter until soft. Add a diced rasher of bacon and cook for a minute or two then add the artichokes, cut into even sized chunks. Add 600ml chicken or vegetable stock and simmer until the vegetables are cooked. Puree and reheat with 2 tbsp cream and chopped parsley.
On this visit Helen also gave me a bag of nettles and I was overjoyed to discover a recipe, in Hugh Fearnley-Whiitingstall’s Everyday, for a Jerusalem artichoke and nettle gratin. If you don’t have access to nettles, and you probably don’t, substitute chard or spinach or any green leafy thing. If you don’t have artichokes you could use potatoes and another root vegetable such as celeriac. Then of course you have a completely different dish but delicious nonetheless.
You could start this in a pan on the stove and finish in a casserole dish in the oven. I use a le Creuset shallow casserole dish, so I can make do with one pan for both stages. Gently sauté two sliced onions and two sliced garlic cloves in a little butter, add 500g washed artichokes, cut into even sized pieces, and a tsp chopped thyme. Season and cook for 5-10 minutes. Pour over 200ml cream and 100ml vegetable or chicken stock and simmer until the liquid has reduced by half. Stir in 100g chopped leafy greens. If you are using an earthenware casserole transfer everything and sprinkle over the crumble topping. The crumble comprises a handful of porridge oats, 4 thick slices stale bread, whizzed to coarse crumbs in a processor, a handful of toasted hazelnuts, roughly chopped, 25g butter, melted and 30g strong Cheddar, grated. Bake at 190° for 25-30 minutes.
We kept back a few of the artichokes and planted them at the back of the vegetable garden. Plant them 10-15 cm deep and 50-60 cm apart. They will grow very tall and produce pretty sunflowers. In Wellington you will need to stake them. Be aware that if you leave any in the ground they will grow again, and you may be overrun. Once they have died back it can be hard to locate the tubers, so I recommend digging them all up and storing them in a large pot of soil kept in a cool dark place. I kept ours in the garden shed. We planted three, which was plenty for us. If your family is bigger, plant a few more but beware, they are prolific. Plant between August and December for harvest April to July.
This year as well as the old favourites, I added two new recipes to my repertoire.
In Yotam Ottolenghi’s Jerusalem, I discovered a delicious recipe for roasted chicken with Jerusalem artichoke and lemon. This is the perfect one pan meal. I have done it in a roasting pan with tinfoil and in the afore mentioned le Creuset pan with lid. It’s great if you remember to marinade overnight but if not a couple of hours is good. I don’t peel the artichokes and I just cut them into even sized chunks. My artichokes are too uneven sized themselves to do a standard cut with each artichoke. This is lovely served with roasted brussels sprouts.
I was wondering where to go next when a new recipe presented itself in Nadia Lim’s 2021 Winter Journal. This is a delightful seasonal publication which I highly recommend. She has a recipe for Pot-roasted Jerusalem artichokes with butter beans, bacon and lemon. I do this in a Dutch oven, but again you could use the le Creuset shallow casserole. And Nadia, a woman after my own heart, doesn’t peel her artichokes.
Heat 2 tbsp olive oil in the pan and add 600g artichokes, scrubbed and cut into 4-5cm chunks. The key is that they are roughly the same size, so they cook evenly. Add 2-3 rashers diced bacon or 75 g diced pancetta. I don’t always have bacon on hand, but I keep pancetta in 75g portions in my freezer. Season, cover and put the pan in the oven at 190° for 25-30 minutes. Remove from the oven. Add a tin of drained butter beans, zest of a lemon plus a squeeze of juice, 1/3 cup chopped herbs such as parsley, thyme and oregano. Mix lightly and return to the oven for a few minutes until the beans are heated though. This is great served with sautéed greens.
It may be a bit late in the season for these recipes, but you could try to source some tubers from a friend and grow your own ready for next season. Whether you grow them or buy them, I recommend adding this delicious vegetable to your winter repertoire.