– the roots are essential for all of us, your family build them up for you day after day, they give you the sap to grow, the minerals from the home soil to fortify you and the strength necessary to let you fly;
– the roots are magical, they contain the power of Mother Earth, they are used in potions and spells, in fairies’ decoctions, they are the basic ingredients of the people of the woods diet, the long legs of the trees supposed to defend the forest.
If I had to choose my favourite vegetable among the roots and tubers, the subject of this little culinary contest held by Labna, I would definitely go for the Jerusalem artichokes. They remind me of the magical mandrakes, tubers with the appearance of a newly born baby with wrinkled brown skin, met by Harry, Ron and Hermione during the Herbology class with Professor Sprout. The juice of the mandrake is precious to help those affected by the Petrifiation spell. The properties of Jerusalem artichoke, however, are somewhat different… they are rich in insulin and probiotics elements, useful for intestinal health, vitamin C, phosphorus, potassium and a good source of iron.
When to buy it and how to store it. You can buy and use Jerusalem artichokes in November, December, January and February, during the harvest season. When you buy them, roots should be free from soft spots, wrinkles or sprouting. You can store them up to two weeks in the fridge. Jerusalem artichokes can be served with or without the skin, raw or cooked.
Some interesting facts about this root. Jerusalem artichokes are native to North America. They were brought to Europe in the early XVII century along with potatoes, but at the beginning they were more widespread than these, thanks to their pleasant artichoke flavour. Then, slowly, the potatoes got the better of Jerusalem artichokes and their production decreased less and less, except getting back to the fore in times of famine. For a long time, Jerusalem artichokes were avoided because of an old wives’ tale: it was said that they were related to the leprosy, because of the similarity of the tuber to the gnarled fingers of those who suffered from this scourge. Their English name, Jerusalem Artichokes, derived from girasole, the Italian word for sunflower to which they are related.
Ingredients (as appetizer, serve 4 – as soup, serve 2):
- white onion, 1/2
- extra virgin olive oil
- Jerusalem artichokes, 500 g
- warm water, 500 ml
- kaffir lime leaves, 2
- freshly cracked black pepper
- basil, a few leaves to garnish
Rinse the Jerusalem artichokes under running water, rubbing them to remove any traces of soil. Leave aside two small Jerusalem artichokes: you will use them later for decoration. Cut the tubers into small cubes about 1 cm per side. Peel and finely chop the white onion. Sauté the onion on low heat with a tablespoon of olive oil in a thick-bottomed pan. When it begins to soften, add the Jerusalem artichokes, stir and cook for few minutes to mix all the flavours.
Season with salt and pepper and add two kaffir lime lives. Pour in hot water to cover the Jerusalem artichokes and let it simmer on low heat for about 20 minutes, until they get soft.
Remove the kaffir lime leaves and purée with a hand mixer the Jerusalem artichokes. You must obtain a velvety and quite thick purée, but if you want, you can add water until you get the desired consistency. If you add more water, return the pan to the heat and let it simmer again for some minutes, to mix all the flavours.
To garnish the dish, deep fry some basil leaves and the leftover Jerusalem artichokes, sliced into 2 mm thick slices, in steaming olive oil until golden brown.
Tasting test. This soup has a delicate artichoke flavour, enhanced and made interesting by adding some kaffir lime leaves, with a fresh and pleasing citrus aroma. If you can’t find kaffir lime leaves (I usually buy them – desiccated – from my local ethnic shop), you can substitute them with some basil leaves and the zest of one lemon. I know basil leaves are just as difficult to find in winter as kaffir lime ones: I usually freeze them in summer in a plastic bag, once cleaned and pat dry, and store them for months in the freezer.
May this 2010 have given you roots, strong and secure, to let you fly in 2011! Do not be afraid to jump in the air, your roots are there, well dug into your family soil, and they will be your safe haven when you want a break from your adventurous flights.