November 9, 2004
It's not everyday that one gets to discover a whole new, previously unpublished vegetable. It's not everyday that this new vegetable seems to belong to a little tribe of bulb-headed, purple-hooded munchkins. And it's not everyday that said munchkins turn out to have a delightful taste, halfway between an artichoke and a sweet potato.
As I'm well aware, topinambours (or Jerusalem artichokes) are news only to me : they've been around for centuries, mostly used in France to feed cattle (the illustrious Limousin cow in particular). They were also one of the very few vegetables that could be found during the war, and those bad memories led people to turn away from them as soon as things got better, thus condemning the poor topinambour (and she rhymes) to oblivion as a légume oublié, a forgotten vegetable. Thankfully, légumes oubliés are all the rage these days, and they have been turning up again on produce stalls here and there, to the joy of those of us who love a little change and vegetable adventure.
My topinambours were purchased at the Batignolles organic market, where I go on Saturday mornings when I can muster up enough energy to get myself out of the house before noon (don't you wish you could just go to the market in your pyjamas?), from one of Nicolas' favorite stands, which have become mine too -- always trust the professional's opinion.
I brushed them with my potato brush (whose qualms about disloyalty I had to soothe), boiled them for roughly twenty minutes until soft (starting in cold water like all root vegetables), peeled off their thick outer skin, and mashed their flesh with a fork. No salt or other seasoning necessary, this purée de topinambour was delicious in its naked simplicity, and would be a perfect and surprising side to game or roasted meat.
Jerusalem Artichoke Soup with Bacon