Monthly Archives: March 2013

Sunchoke Surprise!

It’s not surprising that I’ve always passed by the bin of sunchokes in my local specialty store. These small, brown-skinned tubers (also known as Jerusalem artichokes) look dirty and gnarly and are expensive to boot. But after watching them prepared on a recent episode of “Extra Virgin,” the Cooking Channel program starring actress Debi Mazar and her husband, Italian chef Gabriele Corcos, I had such an appetite for sunchokes that I had to try them.

“You should serve these to company,” proclaimed my husband, when he tasted the sunchokes. Exactly the same thought was running through my mind.

Sunchokes taste like a cross between artichokes and potatoes and have a potato-like texture when cooked. I’ve read that they can be eaten raw, pickled, or cooked in a variety of ways. Following Mazar’s example, I roasted them.

Working from memory, I used a paring knife to peel them (although they can be scrubbed instead). Then, I cut them into even one-inch chunks, tossed them with olive oil, set them on a sheet pan with three peeled cloves of garlic, and roasted them until nicely browned, turning them once. I added a squeeze of lemon before bringing them to the table.

As you’ll see from the recipe link here, which also includes one for the salsa verde that Mazar served with them, she roasted them at 400 degrees for about 30 minutes. Since I made them at the same time that I was roasting a turkey breast, my oven was set to 325, so I slipped them onto the bottom shelf and let them roast much longer.

Step Up to the Plate

If entertaining makes you anxious, you probably put off the decision to host those big holiday meals–Passover and Easter, for instance. You may believe that you’ll know as the date approaches whether or not you feel up to it. But I haven’t found that to be so.

For me, putting off the decision just engenders anguish over my indecision. What’s more, I lose the opportunity for early planning and preparation that can ease the burden of handling any large gathering.

So is it better to take ownership of one of the major occasions early in the year? It might prove less agonizing than delaying. In addition, after handling a particular holiday for a few years, you’re certain to resolve some of the basic concerns (what’s the best format, do you have enough chairs?), so the job is likely to feel less overwhelming than it did before.

Having Fun with Food

Want to put smiles on the faces of the guests at your next party? Try serving tetilla cheese, one of the many anthropomorphic foods that I tasted at last night’s Culinary Historians of New York ( program. Spanish for “nipple,” the white, cone-shaped cow’s milk cheese, which looks like nothing less than a woman’s breast, is delicious, too, with a texture between soft and gooey and a mild, nutty flavor.

The program dealt with “symbolic cannibalism,” the ritualistic vestiges of actual cannibalism, which the evening’s speaker, author Gary Allen (, claims existed in all cultures at one time. Allen is the author or contributor to 30 books, among the latest a Kindle book entitled How to Serve Man: On Cannibalism, Sex, Sacrifice & the Nature of Eating, and Human Cuisine, an anthology that he edited, along with Ken Albala.

The Historians always offer a buffet sampling of dishes pertinent to the evening’s topic, and this program’s theme provided a playful challenge. Of course, we’re all familiar with foods inspired by the human body, such as gingerbread men and lady’s fingers, both of which found a place on the table. But I hadn’t realized before the extent of dishes evoking the human body that are favorites around the world. Others represented last night were filled, breast-shaped pastries called Minni de Virgini (St Agatha’s Breasts); extra-crunchy Italian cookies known as Ossi Di Morto (Bones of the Dead); and flank steak, which Italians sometimes call Bamborino, or “plump infant”.

Other such foods that would be fun to try are: the Mexican dish called Nino Envuelto (or “swaddled baby”), a tasty ingredient wrapped in a thin omelet; Dutch Baby, a pancake made in a cast iron skillet; Bride’s Fingers, an Afghani dessert made of rolled phyllo dough drenched in sweet syrup; and Dita Degli Apostoli (Apostles’ Fingers) Italian rolled crepes filled with ricotta cheese and sometimes decorated with “fingernails” made from almonds.