It was really rainy in San Francisco last week. It was the kind of rain, dark and drizzly, that transported me back to growing up in Seattle. The sidewalks smelled good, musty and wet. I went on a few rainy runs up Bernal Hill just to be in it. I cranked up the oven on a few nights, because what’s better than roasting when it’s rainy? When there’s limited sunshine in the forecast, I’m telling you…sunchokes (also called Jerusalem Artichokes, more on the name in a bit) are a viable sun alternative. They are officially my new favorite roasted vegetable, crisp on the outside, soft inside. At first glance they look like ginger root. They taste like a potato without the starch and heft, and have a touch of that artichoke sweetness. Sunchokes are in season now through early spring.
When I first tasted them, shaved raw in a Jerusalem Artichoke and Arugula salad I’d ordered, I took the name quite literally and assumed that it was some type of exotic artichoke nubbin native to Israel. I mean, right?
Ummm, nope. Totally wrong.
Wiki tells me it has no relation to Jerusalem, and is not a type of artichoke…so what the heck gives? Apparently it is the root of a species of sunflower called the Jerusalem Artichoke that is native to the Eastern United States. My favorite explanation is this: Italian settlers in the US called the plant girasole, the Italian word for sunflower, because of its resemblance to the garden sunflower. Over time, girasole the sing-song and sunlit Italian word morphed into the similar-sounding yet completely different meaning English word, Jerusalem. The artichoke part of the name comes Samuel de Champlain, the French explorer, who sent the first samples of the plant to France, noting its taste was similar to an artichoke.
I write this, not so much to share a recipe, but more to nudge your mind into remembering the native and humble sunchoke next time you feel compelled to roast. To accompany, I suggest cooking a fat, juicy rib-eye steak and serving the meat over a bed of crispy sunchokes with a big, bright endive and blue cheese salad tossed in a citrus vinaigrette. Dinner forecast: Abundant sun and turf. No surf. Zero chance of rain.
Serves 4 as a side
1 pound sunchokes (Jerusalem Artichokes), scrubbed
Extra virgin olive oil
Sea salt and fresh ground black pepper, to taste
Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
Scrub the sunchokes with a brush or rub with a towel to remove dirt, then chop into bite-size chunks.
Drizzle enough olive oil (one tablespoon or so) onto a baking sheet to lightly coat the sunchokes.
Spread sunchokes to sheet then sprinkle with salt and pepper and toss until coated.
Bake for 25 minutes, tossing once, until the skins are browned and crisp.