In the vegetable kingdom nothing is shunned quite as much as the Jerusalem artichoke. Its gnarled form seldom makes an appearance among the bright and beautiful vegetables on the supermarket shelves. Its knobbly exterior creates nooks for dirt to hide and make it more cumbersome than tapered root vegetables to prepare. But it is not its misshapen appearance that strikes fear into many a person’s heart. It is the knowledge that when consumed Jerusalem artichokes are renowned for inducing the most putrid and noisy bouts of flatulence.
This loathsome reputation seems a little unjust. They are reputed to taste like globe artichokes but are actually a relative of the sunflower family hailing from North America rather than the Middle East. Jerusalem artichokes are very versatile vegetables. They make excellent, velvety soups (I recently tried Paul A Young’s Jerusalem Artichoke Veloute which contains white chocolate and found it very moreish indeed). They can also carry stronger flavours such as cumin or coriander and go equally well with delicate seafood such as scallops.
The reason they have such an explosive reaction when consumed is because the tubers contain an indigestible oligosaccharide called inulin which feeds on bacteria in our gut and results in the production of gas. Harold McGee states that they become more digestible if you cook the Jerusalem artichokes for 12 – 24 hours at a low temperature (e.g. 93°C/200°F ) causing the flesh to become “sweet and translucently brown, like vegetable aspic.” On the Radio 4 programme, The Kitchen Cabinet, chef Angela Malik recently said she tosses Jerusalem artichokes in lovage seeds and this seems to reduce their tendency to cause wind. I can’t say I’ve tried either of these remedies so I have no idea whether they work!
Their flavour alone is reward enough for the extra effort you need to apply when preparing Jerusalem artichokes. The recipe below combines the nutty tubers with earthy mushrooms in a creamy gratin which shies away from being cloying. I can’t promise that it won’t lead to any loud trumpeting on the part of the diner but it is delicious none the less. It’s probably best not to serve it for Sunday lunch if you have the Vicar coming over for tea later that afternoon just in case!
Serves 4 as a side dish or 2 as a main
- 150ml whole milk
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 clove garlic, peeled and crushed
- 1 sprig fresh rosemary (about 10cm long)
- 10g dried porcini mushrooms
- 500gJerusalemartichokes, scrubbed and peeled
- Juice of ½ lemon
- 1 tbsp rapeseed or sunflower oil
- 250g chestnut mushrooms, thinly sliced
- 150ml crème fraiche
- 2 further sprigs rosemary (about 10cm long), leaves removed from stem and finely chopped
- 15g butter for greasing
- 25g Gruyere, grated
- Seasoning – nutmeg, salt, pepper and squeeze of lemon juice.
- Place the milk, bay leaf, garlic, rosemary and dried mushrooms in a small sauce pan. Slowly bring to boiling point then turn off the heat and leave to infuse for at least 30 minutes.
- Meanwhile, scrub and peel the artichokes. Slice into disks around 5mm thick. Immediately place into a bowl of water containing the juice of half a lemon to avoid discolouration.
- Heat the oil in a frying pan. Fry the mushrooms until all the liquid which exudes from them has evaporated. Season well with nutmeg, salt, pepper and a squeeze of lemon juice. Pre-heat the oven to 180ºC (slightly less for a fan oven or 350ºF / Gas Mark 4).
- Strain the porcini and milk reserving the liquid. Remove the garlic and the herbs. Return the porcini to the infused milk then add the crème fraiche. Blitz the mixture using a hand blender then add the chopped rosemary and fried mushrooms. Season according to taste.
- Butter a shallow gratin dish (the one I used was approximately 18 x 23 cm). Arrange some slices of artichoke in a single layer in the dish. Pour a little of the porcini and mushroom cream over the artichokes then repeat the process again until you have used up all of the artichokes and sauce. This is quite a rustic dish so don’t worry about the layers being neat and tidy. Sprinkle with grated Gruyere.
- Bake for 1 – 1½ hours until the artichokes are tender and the top is golden and bubbling (if it looks like it is getting too brown then cover the dish with foil). Serve as a vegetarian main with a steamed green vegetable or as a side dish with roasted meats.