I had heard of but never had Jerusalem artichokes (and had never even heard the French name for them, topinambours) until very recently when one of my neighbours gave me some. One of his colleagues had planted them and then had more than he knew what to do with. Historically, they were the survival food of France during rationing during WWII. Reading up on it, it turns out that it is the tuber of a relative of the sunflower and not related to artichokes at all. They are also not from Jerusalem but originally introduced to the Old World from the New in the 17th Century. The English name comes from a corruption of the Italian sunflower, "girasole". The French name, also a little strange, comes from the name of a Brazilian tribe who were part of an exposition in France at the same time as the introduction of the vegetable. They were also called "poires de terre", that is earth pears, in French early on, interesting as potatoes are earth apples.
To look at they resemble ginger, and the bag I got of them was covered, unsurprisingly, in dirt. They are starchy and quite bland, but with an interesting tingle to their taste. We tried experimenting with them. This recipe, as conceived by Hubby and I together and carried out by Hubby, worked very well and was very tasty. The soup we made with the rest of them, a cream of Topinambours soup, needs a little work. It was good but...
4 Jerusalem artichokes, sliced
6-8 potatoes, sliced
1 onion, sliced
1 leek, sliced
1 c milk
1 c cream
2 - 3 tbsp breadcrumbs
100g cheese, grated (we used L'Etivaz)
2 tbsp chives
Salt and pepper
1) Combine all veggie ingredients and chives with salt and pepper to taste, roughly layered in an oven proof dish. Pour the milk and cream over them to about the midline of the dish. Place on the hob and simmer gently for 10-15 minutes until the veg is beginning to cook.
2) Sprinkle cheese and breadcrumbs over the top, and grind extra pepper over it all. Bake eat 180°C for 20-25 minutes until golden brown.
This was very tasty and it would be worth getting Jerusalem artichokes again if only for this! I need to work on the soup recipe a little, and also want to explore the Topinambours properties and possibilities further. If anyone has suggestions, let me know! It was sweet and creamy and savoury and rich all at once, with just that little extra tingle which sets aside the Jerusalem artichoke from the potato. A good comfort food, and a very nice variant on a regular gratin.