The last days of 2014 brought rock hard ground, an iced up pond, and beautiful hoar frosts to my grasses and hydrangea heads, but most importantly, sweetness to my prize winter crop – Jerusalem artichokes. They, as with celeriac, kale and Brussels sprouts, to mention a few, embrace a hard frost to enhance their sweetness and texture.
I grow these little knobbly gems in large tubs / plastic dustbins, as they grow rampantly in open ground. Probably the easiest and least needy of any vegetable to grow, Jerusalem artichokes are neither from Jerusalem nor an artichoke, but rather part of the sunflower family, as their luscious growth shooting skyward by mid summer, evidences. If after reading this you wish to grow ‘a few’, I urge you to try. The Jerusalem artichokes you can buy for eating are perfect for burying in the ground. They vary in colour from white to gold to purply red. Keep them contained and you will have a crop for decades as long as you leave a few in the container each year and top up with compost after harvesting.
The taste of these gnarled winter treats is sweet and nutty. They are sophisticated in texture and taste and they can be transformed into swanky salads (yes, they can be eaten raw – try grated with a little carrot, beetroot, blue cheese and a lemony dressing made with a good nut oil). Or try sweet sticky fries, roasted, mashed, sliced to mix into a dauphinoise, gratin or blitz into a velvety soup. Really, what is there not to like about these beauties, other than skinning them maybe? Peeling a witch’s nose may be easier than peeling these, although the modern varieties are less gnarled. The skin is not offensive if you can’t be bothered to peel them; however, one trick is to parboil them before slipping off the skins with your fingers.
Now, Truly Scrumptious followers will remember that last edition I used poultry pickings, or poached chicken if you were being posh, and I am using chicken here again – (apologies veggies) but this is a good healthy recipe this month – a fresh unusual taste using these humble ingredients with large quantities of tarragon and lemon – fresh and truly flavoursome. If you don’t eat meat, then make a classy soup or sauté in butter with sage leaves and a squeeze of lemon and serve with a poached organic egg.
Jerusalem artichokes with chicken, saffron and lemon
Approx. £9.50 when all ingredients bought at Buttlings and Ludwell Stores.
Saffron, lemon and chicken – always a great combination – written with a big nod to my favourite chef of the moment, Yotam Ottolenghi. Follow Ottolenghi on twitter@ottolenghi for inspiring writing and photos from this phenomenal, original chef.
Top tip – Plan ahead to leave it to marinate as long as you dare
500g Jerusalem artichokes, peeled and cut into thick wedges
3 tbs fresh lemon juice
8 large chicken thighs, on the bone with the skin on
12 banana shallots peeled and halved lengthways
12 large garlic cloves, sliced
1 lemon, cut in half lengthways then into very thin slices
2 tsp saffron threads
50 ml olive oil
150 ml cold water
1½ tbs pink peppercorns, slightly crushed (optional – in brine – not the dried ones)
10g fresh thyme leaves
40g tarragon leaves, roughly chopped
2 tsp salt and ½ tsp black pepper
Preheat the oven to 240°C / gas mark 9 (AGA roasting oven, middle shelf)
1. Cover the prepared Jerusalem artichokes with cold water, add half the lemon juice, and bring to the boil. Simmer for 15 minutes or until tender but not soft. Drain and leave to cool in a large bowl.
2. Add all the remaining ingredients excluding the remaining lemon juice and half the tarragon and mix well with your hands, rubbing the marinade into the chicken well.
3. Cover and leave to marinate in the fridge for a minimum of 4 hours.
4. Place the chicken, skin-side up, in a roasting tin and spread the vegetables and marinade around the chicken.
5. Roast for 30minutes, then cover with foil and cook for a further 15 minutes, by which time the chicken should be cooked through.
6. Remove from the oven and add the reserved tarragon and lemon juice. Mix well, taste and add more salt if needed.
7. Serve at once with kale, steamed and then tossed lightly in butter, sprinkled with toasted almonds.
8. I’m not even going to lower myself to mention the notorious, guaranteed after effects of these little treasures. Serve them to children and you will have them sniggering all night. I suggest the rest of the family sleep alone!
A truly, truly scrumptious earthy yet flavoursome mid-week winter supper
These musings and recipes are gleaned from The Donhead Digest with the permission of AIF, their author.