Topinambur and clams

Experimenting with Jerusalem artichokes

Helen Farrell
March 10, 2018 - 14:55

Topinambur is a beautiful word, conjuring up a wonderful world of princes and castles, unicorns and open-top silver carriage rides while snowflakes flutter on our faces. Then reality bites that the Jerusalem artichoke, as we call it in English, has nothing to do with Jerusalem and everything to do with mispronunciation. Also known as sunchokes due to the tuber’s relationship to the sunflower (both plants are members of the genus Helianthus), the Italian word girasole somehow ended up as “Jerusalem” in English, probably due to Italian settlers in the United States. Confused? It doesn’t really matter as this eastern North American root vegetable is delicious regardless of its name, and now grows close to Florence in Lastra a Signa and in the Pisa province.


Irregular in shape and size, the Jerusalem artichoke has a fleshy, white pulp. It can be eaten boiled, in stews or very thinly sliced and dressed with oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper. The brown, verging on purple root is nutty, naturally sweet and crunchy, and in some cultures has even been reported as a remedy for diabetes. Enjoy!



Cream of Jerusalem artichoke and clams

Serves 4


500g Jerusalem artichokes (I used ones grown in Perignano, province of Pisa, available from Unicoop Firenze—try to find ones that aren’t too lumpy as they are tricky to peel), peeled with a small, sharp knife and cut into small cubes / 2 medium potatoes, peeled and cut into small cubes / ½ onion, peeled and finely chopped / ¼ carrot, peeled and finely chopped / ¼ celery stick, finely chopped / 500ml vegetable stock / 500g clams / 15g butter / ½ clove garlic, peeled and crushed / Sprig of fresh parsley, finely chopped / A few chives leaves, snipped / Extra-virgin olive oil / Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste



Conquering fear of polpo e patate recipe

I’ll never forget the time I ordered seafood pasta in Rome. After I’d savoured every last mollusk and cephalopod morsel, I realised that my English friend


Sauté the onion, carrot and celery in a generous splash of olive oil in a deep saucepan until softened. Add the Jerusalem artichoke and potatoes. Pour in the vegetable stock, enough to cover the vegetables. Simmer over low heat for 20 minutes.


Soak the clams in a large pot of water at room temperature for 1 hour. Drain and rinse thoroughly under cold running water to remove any grit.


Remove the vegetables from the heat and use a handheld blender to make a smooth cream. Season generously with salt and pepper to taste.


Sauté the clams with garlic in a little oil and butter in a large frying pan until the clams open up; discard those that don’t open. Sprinkle with the parsley and season with pepper.


Serve in bowls topped with the clams, some in shell and some without. Drizzle with a dash of your finest extra-virgin olive oil and sprinkle with chives.


Wine pairing

Jerusalem artichokes are tricky to tame wine-wise. Plumb for a complex white like Montesecondo’s phenomenally expressive Trebbiano 2016 made in amphora near San Casciano Val di Pesa. Step things up with a Tuscan sparkler such as Baracchi’s Trebbiano Metodo Classico, whose zest caresses the clams, or embrace elegance with Montellori Pas Dosé, a pure Chardonnay from the Montalbano hills whose minerality proves a match made in paradiso.



With thanks to Emiko Davies for her contributions to this article.


more articles