Happy New Year!!!!!
We have moved into the vegetable section where we shall play for the next three months. Through an unusual twist of cooking challenge planning we arrive at vegetables at the same time when most of the fresh vegetables in North America are but a distant memory. Knowing the importance of the freshest ingredients (see, I have learned ONE thing from this cook-a-thon) I cooked all of my recipes in this chapter ahead of time. In fact, there is only one left - Sautéed Shitake mushroom caps and I can get them anytime from the farmer north of my house.
It was funny though, in the spring I was trying to figure out the seasons for every one of my selections and I was stymied by my first one in the rotation - Sunchokes. I had no clue what a sunchoke looked liked. I asked around. No one knew what they were.
I turned to google and my searches revealed some interesting information.
A sunchoke is an underground vegetable like a cross between a rutabaga, potato, sunflower seed, and water chestnut. Also called a Jerusalem artichoke, it is not like an artichoke bloom, nor does it grow in Jerusalem. It's one of the few native tubers of North America. A sunchoke, related to the sunflower, makes a delicious addition to salad, salsa, marinade, and soup.
Native Americans enjoyed digging up and eating sunchokes for centuries before the colonialists settled. The sunchoke got its new name when a French explorer sent some plants back to his friend in Italy to cultivate in the Mediterranean climate. Thinking they tasted like artichokes, the Italian named the tuber "girasole articicco," meaning, "sunflower artichoke." We North Americans corrupted the pronunciation (now isn't THAT a first!), which they thought sounded more like "Jerusalem," but the name stuck.
I also discovered through my reading that the wee tuber has an unfortunate side effect and can cause terrible gas. We are all happy to report that this was NOT the case with this recipe - either Marcella's careful directions for preparing the sunchoke for cooking them kept this unfortunate side-effect at bay or our rock solid gastrointestinal systems are immune. Whatever, I was just happy to avoid an issue.
I also discovered why I wasn't able to find a sunchoke in the spring. . . they are in season in the fall.
I put this recipe on hold until September when I spotted some in the market. They quickly got added to the menu the night I made my favourite recipe so far - the braised pork roast with vinegar and bay leaves. They proved to be a perfect accompaniment to the full flavoured pork.
To make the gratin you pre-cook the peeled sunchokes until tender. Once the sunchokes are cooled they are sliced into disks. The slices are placed in a buttered oven proof pan and sprinkled with salt and pepper. All that is needed is to sprinkle on 1/4 cup of freshly grated parmigiano-reggiano, dab with some butter, and bake.
This is a delicious way to add a vegetable to your plate - I suspect that even those vegetable haters in your household will go gaga for this one.
Here's hoping that your new year is filled with good food, fine wine, friends, loved-ones, laughter, prosperity, and plenty of mind-bending travel!
Buon 2011 a tutti!