Food and Drink: Not from Jerusalem and no artichoke: It's a sunflower from the West with a flavour to savour, as America's native Indians have known for centuries

The naming of the Jerusalem artichoke is a tale of heart- warming muddle and mispronunciation. The tuber hails from North America and was a staple food of native Indian tribes. The first European to draw attention to it was a Frenchman, Samuel de Champlain, the founder of Quebec.

He ate some in 1605, at Cape Cod, and described them as having 'the taste of artichokes'. From this comes the second part of their name, though they are not botanically related to the artichoke proper. However, their sweetness and nuttiness are reminiscent of the globe artichoke. I have occasionally used Jerusalem artichokes in recipes that call for fresh artichoke hearts, and they are a far better substitute than the tasteless, waterlogged tinned variety.

Once they were brought to Europe, it became clear that they were related to the sunflower (they are sometimes called sunchokes), rising as high, with the same abundant foliage, and, in a good year, similar, though smaller flowers. It was then that mispronunciation arose, from two possible sources.

The first is that 'Jerusalem' comes from girasole, the Italian for sunflower. The second theory also involves verbal corruption. The tubers were soon widely cultivated in the Netherlands, where they were known as 'artichoke-apples of Ter Neusen', a town in which they thrived, and, on their introduction into England, it was Ter Neusen that was changed into Jerusalem.

Like beans, Jerusalem artichokes tend to make people fart. Various methods have been advocated to reduce wind-power, but as a rule I've found them ineffective or inconvenient.

When it comes to preparation, it makes sense to pick out the largest and smoothest roots, to reduce peeling time and waste. Luckily, the varieties sold these days tend to be more rotund and less knobbly than their ancestors, so that shouldn't be much of a problem.

The usual doctrine is to submerge them in acidulated water as soon as they are peeled, and as they cook, so that they don't discolour. Having just spent a good deal of time peeling Jerusalem artichokes, I've realised they don't discolour that quickly or dramatically. If a marginally deeper colour than ivory-white doesn't dismay you, do without the acidulation, and treat them as any ordinary vegetable.

Remoulade de topinambours et poulet

This cold salad of Jerusalem artichokes and chicken makes the most of the natural sweetness of the root. Take care not to overcook the strips of artichoke - they should still be verging on the crisp. I like the saltiness of grilled bacon scattered on top; my husband preferred it without.

Serves 4-6

Ingredients: 1lb (450g) Jerusalem artichokes, peeled

8oz (220g) cooked boned chicken, shredded

5tbs mayonnaise

squeeze of lemon juice

1tbs Dijon mustard

2 1/2 tbs chopped chives

4oz (110g) streaky bacon (optional)

salt and pepper

Preparation: Slice the artichokes lengthwise, and cut into 1/4 in (0.5 cm) thick matchsticks. Blanch in salted water for 2-3 minutes, then drain and run under the cold tap. Drain thoroughly. Mix with the chicken, mayonnaise, lemon juice, mustard, two-thirds of the chives and salt and pepper. Taste and adjust seasoning. Grill bacon, if using, until crisp and browned, then snip up or crumble and sprinkle over the top. Sprinkle with remaining chives.

Jerusalem artichoke and potato pie

A pie filled with Jerusalem artichokes alone would be overwhelming in flavour, but balance it with an equal quantity of potato, and you're on to a winner. This substantial main-course pie is good served hot or warm.

Serves 8

Ingredients: 1 1/2 lbs (675g) Jerusalem artichokes, peeled and thinly sliced

1 1/2 lbs (675g) large new potatoes, scrubbed and thinly sliced

1lb (450g) puff pastry

3tbs chopped parsley

6oz (170g) grated mature cheddar

2oz (55g) butter

1 egg yolk

salt and pepper

Preparation: Parboil the sliced artichokes in salted water for 3 minutes. Parboil sliced potatoes for 5 minutes. Both vegetables should be about half-cooked. Drain well.

Line a 2in (5cm) deep, 9 1/2 in (24cm) wide metal cake tin with half the pastry. Layer the artichokes and potato, lying them flat. Sprinkle each layer with parsley, cheese, salt and pepper, and dot with a little butter. Continue until all are used up. Mix the egg yolk with a tablespoon of water.

Roll out the remaining pastry. Brush the edges of the pastry in the pie dish with egg-yolk glaze, then lay the rolled pastry over, trimming off edges and pressing firmly into place. Use trimmings to decorate pie. Chill for half an hour if you have time. Make a hole in the centre, and brush with egg-yolk glaze. Bake at 220C/425F/gas mark 7 for 10 minutes, then reduce heat to 170C/325F/gas mark 3 and bake for a further 50-60 minutes. Cover with foil if it threatens to burn. Test with a skewer (through the central hole) to see if the vegetables are tender.

Roast Jerusalem artichokes

One of the best and easiest ways to cook Jerusalem artichokes. There's no need for peeling - all that is required is a quick scrub to take off any lingering dirt. I've deliberately neglected to give quantities, as the balance of flavourings is very much a personal matter. I love cumin, and sprinkle it over fairly generously, but if you're not so keen, go cautiously or leave it out.

Ingredients: Jerusalem artichokes

olive oil

coarse sea salt

whole cumin seeds (optional)

Preparation: Scrub the artichokes but do not peel. Pour enough oil into an ovenproof dish to cover the base nicely. Lay the artichokes in the dish, in a single layer, turning to coat evenly with oil. Spoon a few tablespoons of water around them. Sprinkle with salt, and cumin seeds if using. Roast at 180C/350F/gas mark 4, turning occasionally, for 30-40 minutes until tender.

Jerusalem artichoke and mushroom soup

Mushrooms take kindly to some intimation of sweetness, and Jerusalem artichokes benefit from the earthy flavour of mushrooms.

Serves 6-8

Ingredients: 1 large onion,

chopped

1 clove garlic, chopped

2oz (55g) butter or 3tbs sunflower oil

1lb (450g) Jerusalem artichokes,

peeled and sliced

1lb (450g) flat-cap mushrooms,

roughly chopped

1 medium potato, peeled and cubed

2 sprigs tarragon

2 stalks parsley

1 bay leaf

1 sprig thyme

2tbs flour

2 pints (1,140ml) chicken or

vegetable stock

3tbs dry sherry

salt and pepper

Preparation: Melt the butter over a low heat in a large pan (or heat the sunflower oil). Add the onion, garlic and all the vegetables. Tie the herbs together with string and add those, too. Stir, then cover and sweat over a very low heat for 15 minutes, stirring once or twice. Sprinkle with flour, and stir, then add stock, salt and pepper. Bring up to the boil and simmer for 25-30 minutes until vegetables are all tender. Remove herbs and liquidise soup or pass through the fine blade of a mouli legumes. Return to the pan. Taste and adjust seasoning and reheat when needed. Stir in sherry just before serving.

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