Jerusalem artichoke á la Mediterranean

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FFB market 014Topinambour or Jerusalem artichoke is a root vegetable and cultivated widely for its edible tuber. Although they are called Jerusalem artichokes they have no relation to Jerusalem, and it is even not a type of artichoke, though both are members of the daisy family.

The Jerusalem artichoke has lots of health benefits because it contains protein, but no oil, and it is a surprising lack of starch but it is also rich in the carbohydrate inulin (76%). It  has an underlying sweet taste because of the fructose, which is about one and a half times sweeter than sucrose. No wonder why it has also been promoted as a healthy choice for type 2 diabetics (because fructose is better tolerated by diabetical people).

What and how you can prepare it?

You can scrub and roast them whole, like mini jacket potatoes and split them open, drizzled with a little chilli oil. You can even use them in a salad with smoky bacon and orange wedges. And Jerusalem artichoke’s best friends with sage, thyme, butter, bacon, bay leaf, cream, breadcrumbs, cheese and anything which is smoked.

In Baden-Württemberg, in Germany over 90% of the Jerusalem artichoke crop is used to produce the famous spirit called “Topinambur“, “Topi” or “Rossler”. (From the 19th-century Jerusalem artichokes were being used to make a spirit called “Jerusalem artichoke brandy,” “Jerusalem artichoke”, “Topi”, “Erdäpfler” “Rossler” or “Borbel.”).

This side dish is a kind of Mediterranean version originated from Italy:

Ingredients:

600 g Jerusalem artichokes

2-3 tbs olive oil

a few bay leaves

2 cloves garlic

1 splash white wine vinegar

salt

pepper

Directions:

To serve 4, you will need 600g/1lb 6oz of Jerusalem artichokes. Peel them then cut them into chunks. Place them in an oiled frying pan and fry on a medium heat until golden on both sides, then add a few bay leaves, 2 cloves of garlic, finely sliced, a splash of white wine vinegar, some salt and pepper, and place a lid on top. After about 20 to 25 minutes they will have softened up nicely and you can remove the lid and the bay leaves. Continue cooking for a couple of minutes to crisp the artichoke slices up one last time, then serve straight away. Personally, I think they go well with both meat and fish and are particularly good in a plate of antipasti, or in soups or warm salads.

The name, Jerusalem artichoke in English, topinambour in German is uncertain. Allegedly Italian settlers in the USA called the plant girasole, the Italian word for sunflower, because of its resemblance to the garden sunflower. Over time, the name girasole may have been changed to Jerusalem.  Another explanation for the name is that the Pilgrims, when they came to the New World, named the plant with regard to the “New Jerusalem” they believed they were creating in the wilderness. The English later corrupted girasole artichoke (meaning, “sunflower artichoke”) to Jerusalem artichoke. There have also been various other names applied to the plant, such as the French or Canada potato, topinambour, and lambchoke. Sunchoke.

The German version  “topinambur” to a 17th century coincidence at the Vatican (in 1615) when a sample of the tuber from Canada was on display, as having helped French Canadian settlers to survive the Winter; at the same time a member of the Brazilian coastal tribe, the Tupinambá, was also visiting. The New World connection evidently resulted in the name for Jerusalem artichoke now used in Spanish, German, Romanian and French.

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