EDITOR'S NOTE: In this new monthly column, our restaurant critic, Adam Erace, brings you the gospel of local, seasonal produce minus the dirt-encrusted histrionics. Each segment highlights a calendar-correct crop available at farmers markets this very minute, and what Erace — and the city’s best chefs — are doing with it. Visit citypaper.net/mealticket for recipes.
Dagger-long, brown and ridged like some giant larval grub, a sunchoke looks more Jumanji than New Jersey. But beneath the surface of this sunflower root is a flavor far less scary.
Newly cool temperatures enhance the sweetness of these tubers, alternately known as earth apples, topinambours and Jerusalem artichokes (though they’re native to North America), which is why you’re just starting to see them appear at markets, both in full, phallic glory and in smaller, friendlier nubs and hunks less likely to terrorize Kirsten Dunst.
“Sunchokes are unique as far as root vegetables go,” says The Farm and Fisherman’s Joshua Lawler, who sources his ’chokes from boutique-y Blue Moon Acres’ farms in Bucks and Mercer counties. “They have a more custardy texture, and the skin has that nice earthiness. No other root veg has quite as sharp a contrast between the outside and the inside.”
Lawler buzzes sunchokes into a soup dotted with crispy quinoa and Meyer-lemon-and-apple puree; exploits their jicama-like crunch in raw pickles that accessorize his crudos; and roasts them whole, glazing with meat sauce and sherry vinegar. My preferred method: Boil for 15 minutes, transfer to a food processor and pulse with roasted garlic, buttermilk and butter into a healthier alternative to mashed potatoes. They cook in about half the time, their rice-paper-thin skins just need a good scrub, and because of their naturally high water content, they require much less fat to create the same rich, lush feeling of grandma’s spuds. I finish the mash with chopped fresh chives, though I might start using sesame seeds and curry powder, accents Lawler says match with sunchokes’ sweet, nutty flavor.
“But you’ve gotta be careful,” the chef warns. In the words of 17th-century English botanist John Goodyer: “Which way soever they be dressed and eaten, they stir and cause a filthy loathsome stinking wind within the body, thereby causing the belly to be pained and tormented, and are a meat more fit for swine than men.”
The carb inulin, in which sunchokes are super rich, is to blame for producing Hurricane Sandy-force wind. But look on the bright side: Is there any better way to clear a room — and keep all the delicious tubers to yourself?