It puzzles and saddens me to witness the obscurity to which Jerusalem artichoke, one of the finest of tubers, has been relegated. In America it is used only raw, for salads; and in Italy, except for a few districts in the northwest, it is neither known nor heard of, despite the fact that the plant it is the root of, a variety of sunflower, is widely grown. But it is cultivated for its oil-bearing seeds and the delicious root is discarded.
Near my hometown, there are acres and acres of those sunflowers, whose sight once led to an amusing incident. As we passed them I pointed them out to the driver who had picked me up in Venice to take me to my mother. “Guarda—look!” I said. “Quanti topinambur—how many topinambur!” Topinambur is the Italian for Jerusalem artichoke, but topi alone means mice, and that was the only part of the word the man heard. “Mice?” he asked, while braking abruptly. “Where?”
In the recipe below the artichokes and mushrooms are trifolati; this means that for cooking they are sliced wafer-thin like truffles, which are sometimes called trifola. The cooking procedure could not be much simpler. Olive oil is heated up with garlic and parsley, and the sliced artichokes and mushrooms are cooked in that scented oil. The mushrooms shed liquid that helps to cook the firmer artichoke, but at the end the only liquid left is the fragrant oil. The Jerusalem artichoke, which is reticently sweet, coaxes the cultivated mushrooms, by contrast, to express their latent flavor of the woods. It tastes just wonderful, take my word.
© 1997 Marcella Hazan estate. All rights reserved.