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Food & Drink

For meatless antipasti, try sunchoke, a hearty but delicious tuber

| Saturday, Jan. 25, 2014, 9:00 p.m.
Sunchoke Carpaccio With Almonds and Grapefruit
Kate Previte
Sunchoke Carpaccio With Almonds and Grapefruit
The sunchoke, also called a Jerusalem artichoke, are lumpy like ginger root but they are versatile and rich in potassium and iron. (Chris Walker/Chicago Tribune/KRT)
The sunchoke, also called a Jerusalem artichoke, are lumpy like ginger root but they are versatile and rich in potassium and iron. (Chris Walker/Chicago Tribune/KRT)

When I conjure inspiration for a meatless antipasti spread, I think of hearty starches that give hungry carnivores like me something to work with. The Jerusalem artichoke, also known as the sunchoke, is substantial but has a delicate flavor unlike potatoes.

Despite its name, this versatile ingredient has nothing to do with the artichoke. In fact, one theory suggests that the name derives from the Italian word girasole, meaning sunflower, for its physical resemblance. The Italian word was, possibly later, turned into “Jerusalem” by lazy English speakers who butchered its pronunciation. Later, the “artichoke” was added (on account of similar taste) and the “Jerusalem artichoke” was born.

When purchasing this edible tuber, look for knobby, pink skin, similar to that of gingerroot. These knobs are unavoidable and not indicative of quality. However, do avoid soft spots, wrinkles or sprouting in the roots.

Sunchokes keep for a couple of weeks in the refrigerator. However, once prepared, they need to be eaten within a week. The acid in this recipe will prevent discoloration, allowing you to stretch the lifespan a bit.

There's a reason grapefruit is dubbed winter's sunshine when it appears in the dead of the season. A single grapefruit packs a lot of punch as a natural cold fighter, arriving when we're most susceptible to catching illness. The citrus keeps well in cold storage, so it can be found in supermarkets year-round. But growing season peaks from October through May. A tried-and-true indicator of a juicy grapefruit is if it's heavy for its size and has smooth rather than bumpy skin.

If you're not into the rawness of sunchokes in this recipe, you can also serve them as you would potatoes: peeled, boiled and pureed. You can also leave the skin on and fry sunchoke chips. Another of my favorite methods is to poach the sunchoke until tender and then flash-fry it to create a crispy shell around a creamy interior. It is the perfect antidote to winter blues.

Mario Batali is the award-winning chef behind 24 restaurants including Eataly, DelPosto, and his flagship Greenwich Village enoteca, Babbo.

Carpaccio di Topinambur (Sunchoke Carpaccio With Almonds and Grapefruit)

1 grapefruit

1 small bunch parsley, leaves only (about 12 cup)

14 cup sliced, blanched almonds, toasted

2 cloves garlic

Coarse sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

1 pound firm sunchokes (Jerusalem artichokes), scrubbed with skin on

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more as needed

Zest the entire grapefruit into a small bowl.

Tear the parsley leaves from the bunch and add it to the zest. Add the sliced almonds. Grate the garlic into the bowl with a rasp. Season with coarse sea salt and set aside.

Remove abrasions from the sunchokes with a paring knife. Using a Japanese mandoline, thinly slice the sunchokes.

Transfer the sunchoke slices to a large bowl and dress with the juice from 12 the grapefruit. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper, and drizzle with extra-virgin olive oil. Toss well; be sure to coat the sunchokes well, to prevent oxidation.

Add a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil to the almond gremolata. Lay out slices of sunchoke overlapping on a plate. Mix the almond gremolata and strew over the sunchoke carpaccio. Serve immediately.

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