Wednesday, 10 April 2013

Jerusalem Artichoke (Sunchoke) Gratin

Jerusalem artichokes are good for your heart, Jerusalem artichokes make you fart, the more you fart the more you eat, the more you sit on the toilet seat.

The Jerusalem artichoke truly is the most intriguing of vegetables. The looks of a ginger root, the density of a potato, the flavour of an artichoke, the flatulence-giving properties of the baked bean. Oh, and they are utterly delicious too.

Five minutes walk from our flat is Marylebone farmers market, held every Sunday in the car park behind Waitrose. There are not that many stalls, but the ones that it does have stock a fabulous array of organic muddy veg, free-range meat, artisan treats and potted herbs. Everything is pretty expensive, but then it should be.

Take the bread for instance. We bought a spelt bread for £3.20 from a stoned-looking lady standing at one of the two bakery stalls in the market. On our way home, we popped into Waitrose for some cream to make today's gratin recipe, and I happened upon their range of breads, which included an insipid looking spelt loaf half the size and half the price of the one I bought. While I accept that three-and-a-bit-quid is a lot for a loaf of bread from the farmers market, I can say without reservation that, after scoffing the whole thing in a day, it was easily the best thing I have ever put in my mouth. Ever. I'm sure that the £1.79 one from Waitrose was nowhere near as good - it certainly didn't look it.

Not everything was dear though. A kilo of Jerusalem artichokes from a ruddy-faced farmer came in at a very reasonable £1.50. Having never cooked them before, I was a little unsure of how to treat them. But recognising their starchy attributes and interesting skins, I realised that a creamy cheesy gratin would probably be OK (but then, what wouldn't be delicious baked in cheese and cream?).

I wasn't wrong. The dish was incredible. Smooth, silky artichokes perfectly complemented by the rich, creamy sauce. The onions and garlic add a perfect savoury note against the sweet 'chokes (which I suspect may be a bit sickly without them).

Cost-wise, the whole dish came in at a bargain £1.25 per serving. Mrs Ribeye and I ate it as a lunch dish main course, but it would be equally good as a side dish with dinner.

Just a quick word to the wise: Don't eat this dish on a first date, or in a closed environment. Trust me.

Serves 2


750g Jerusalem artichokes, skins on and scrubbed
1 large onion
2 tablespoons of olive oil
2 cloves of garlic, crushed
300ml single cream
100g parmesan cheese, grated
Salt and black pepper

Cook the artichokes in vigorously boiling water until slightly tender (20-30 mins approx). In the meantime, preheat the oven to 200c. In an ovenproof skillet or pan, fry the onion in the olive oil and then add the garlic, and cook until soft. Slice the artichokes into 1cm thick rounds and distribute in the pan in an even layer. Pour over the cream and top with the parmesan cheese. Bake for 20-30 mins, until the cream has reduced and the cheese is golden. Serve immediately and open a window.

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