What's in Season

Sunchokes: Rooted in Taste

The ugly duckling of the sunflower family is a thing of beauty on the plate

Illustration: John Burgoyne

Don’t judge this tuber by its formal name or questionable outward appearance. The Jerusalem artichoke is neither from Jerusalem nor related to the artichoke—which most likely explains why food marketers changed its moniker to sunchoke in the 1960s after centuries of consumption in the United States. And, despite its gnarly, rough exterior, it remains a delicious staple ingredient in the South’s best restaurant kitchens. “The sunchoke is one root vegetable that is greatly underrated and underused, probably because it’s not the most visually appealing,” says chef Nico Romo of the restaurant Fish, in Charleston, South Carolina. “It’s knobby, twisted, and just plain awkward-looking. However, the nutty and slightly sweet flavor profile makes it really versatile and a great match for warm, seasonal comfort dishes.” Romo loves to cut them into chunks—leaving the skin intact—and toss them with garlic and olive oil before roasting. “Keep the seasoning mild so that the delicate flavor really shines,” he says. To that point, the root veggie is also a crunchy star when sliced thin on a mandoline and served raw (à la water chestnuts) in salads or as crudités. Although technically in season in the South from early fall through spring, this tuber reaches its peak flavor in winter. Choose firm sunchokes with no blemishes, sprouts, or soft spots, and store them on the counter for a week, or in the refrigerator for up to three weeks. When it comes time to prep, give them a much-needed cleaning with a vegetable scrubber. Then simmer, roast, or bake—per Romo’s accompanying recipe inspirations—to discover the beauty within this unassuming kitchen star.

Sunchokes Three Ways

Make a Soup
“I love to bring out the delicate flavor of sunchokes in this dish. It’s elegant as a stand-alone first course, but you could also add it as a puree or sauce to accompany roasted fish.”

Sauté 2 tsp. chopped garlic and 2 tsp. ground ginger in 2 tbsp. olive oil for about 5 minutes. Add 2 cups peeled and chopped sunchokes, 2 cups heavy cream, and 1 cup chicken broth, and reduce by a third; blend until smooth. Top with 1 tsp. crème fraîche, season with salt and pepper, and garnish with chervil, parsley, or your favorite herb.

Roast a Root Veggie Mix

“I love the sweet-and-savory combination. The warm, robust flavors work really well with meats and poultry—from short ribs to stuffed quail.”

Roughly chop 2 cups rainbow carrots and 2 cups sunchokes. Toss with 1 cup olive oil, 1 tsp. julienned fresh sage, up to 1 tsp. Espelette or cayenne pepper, 2 tsp. each finely chopped ginger and garlic, ½ cup soy sauce, and ½ cup sweet chili sauce. Spread the seasoned vegetables evenly on sheet pan and bake at 375°F until caramelized, about 15 to 20 minutes.

Bake a Quiche

“This is the perfect comfort food for a lazy Sunday morning at home with family. It’s easy and versatile—you can swap any number of ingredients from the fridge.”

In a large bowl, mix 2 cups chopped sunchokes, ½ cup Swiss cheese cubes, 1 tsp. minced garlic, 1 tsp. nutmeg, and 1 tsp. chopped fresh thyme. Spread evenly over a store-bought pie shell. Whisk together 2 whole eggs, 1 cup cream, and salt and pepper to taste, then pour into pie shell. Bake at 350°F for 15 to 20 minutes, or until firm.