It was with great excitement but also much regret that I dug up my Jerusalem artichokes (Helianthus tuberosus) today. Excitement, as each plant provides such an amazing haul of these splendid vegetables, but regret, as this is my last plant to harvest this winter, and I will have to wait until autumn now until I can have this wonderful treat again. The name Jerusalem comes from girasole-the Italian name for sunflower and they are indeed a member of the sunflower family. I’m not sure where the artichoke name comes from though, as they bear no resemblance to globe artichokes in either look or taste.
I don’t know why I hadn’t grown Jerusalem artichokes before, but a friend gave me 5 tubers to plant last year, and with no effort at all on my part, they produced a very bountiful crop. They have an exquisite subtle taste, unlike anything else, and can be cooked in many ways. Ok, they can cause a teeny bit of flatulence, but this is a small price to pay for such a tasty dish.
My favourite recipe at the moment is to par-boil the artichokes for 5 mins or so and slice them into 5mm slices. Be careful not to boil for too long as they will disintegrate if overcooked. Meanwhile fry some bacon in a little oil and when cooked, remove bacon from the pan, leaving the fat. Finish off cooking the sliced Jerusalem artichokes in the bacon fat, add the bacon to the pan again, re-heat and then serve both artichokes and bacon on top of a dressed green salad. It’s a real warm winter delight.
I’m planning to plant many more tubers as I just couldn’t get enough of them this year. As a winter vegetable they are invaluable as they can be harvested for 6 months of the year from October to March, but despite being absolutely delicious, they are not that easy to buy in greengrocers or supermarkets. Jerusalem artichokes can be planted from January until March, about 4-6 inches deep (10-15cm) and 1-2ft (30-60cm) apart in all soils, in an open or shady site. Be warned, once you plant them, they’re almost impossible to get rid of, but I think this can only be a positive thing. They grow to about 6ft (2m) high, so take care as to where you plant them so as not to shade other veg. Fuseau seems to be the main variety available to buy and each tuber will produce about 2-3kg when harvested.
Still going strong at the allotment are Cavalo Nero, a great source of winter greens and a lovely architectural plant to look at and
I’ve been digging up leeks too. They may look a bit tatty at this time of the year, but they still have a wonderful taste and are an invaluable addition to soups and stews or just as steamed veg with a creamy vinaigrette-delicious!