When a friend of mine told me she had a bumper crop of Jerusalem Artichokes in her backyard, I saw an opportunity to try yet another overlooked, underappreciated vegetable.
I had never heard of Jerusalem Artichokes (now often called Sunchokes), though once she dropped them off, I recognized them from that isle in the produce department devoted to intimidating root vegetables. Jerusalem Artichokes are not actually a kind of artichoke though they are in the artichoke family. They are a kind of sunflower and are native to North America. They were grown by Native Americans before Samuel de Champlain discovered them and brought them back to France in the early 1600’s.
When picking sunchokes, look for ones that are firm to the touch and plump. They should be crispy when you slice them raw. As sunchokes sit around, they get mushy.
I figured the best way to cook this unfamiliar root vegetable would be to add it to a Gratin Dauphinois. I used the Gratin Dauphinois in Jacques Pépin’s book as the basis for my recipe.
I adapted the recipe by adding the sunchokes, the leeks and the nutmeg. Also, I made a few substitutions based on what I had on hand in my kitchen. For example, I didn’t have Gruyère cheese, nor did I have half and half or heavy cream, so I substituted 4-year aged cheddar for the Gruyère and 2% milk for the half and half. It came out great, so you should feel confident making these kinds of substitutions in a pinch.
2 cloves garlic thinly sliced
2 leeks, chopped (up to the part where it turns green)
1.5 lbs Idaho potatoes, peeled and thinly sliced
1 lb Jerusalem artichokes peeled and thinly sliced
4 Tbsp unsalted butter
2 cups milk (or cream or half and half)
Dash of freshly grated Nutmeg
Salt and Pepper to taste
1 cup grated cheese (I used cheddar, but Gruyère would be even better)
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1. Preheat oven to 425˚F. Layer the garlic, potatoes, leeks and sunchokes in a heavy bottom, oven safe dish, making several repeating layers. I used a small, Le Creuset dutch oven like the pictured above:
2. Add chunks of the butter and the milk. Freshly grate nutmeg over the top and season with salt and pepper. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring frequently to prevent the potatoes from sticking to the bottom and to keep the milk from curdling or scalding.
3. Once the milk is heated and nearly boiling, add both cheeses.
4. Transfer to the oven and bake for about 1 hour. Check on it periodically to make sure that the cheese isn’t burning. I stirred it a couple of times while it was in the oven to keep everything cooking evenly.
5. Once you remove it from the oven, let it cool for about 20-30 minutes before serving. That allows the flavors to meld and the cheese and milk to cool into a creamy mixture.