Last week, after hearing too many references to celeriac and not ever having tried it, let alone seen it, I asked my friends at Specialty Produce if they carried the root. Sure enough they did and invited me to come by and pick some up to try. Which I did -- and will write about in another week or so. But, while I was there and reviewing recipes with their Kelly Orange, I noticed a reference to crosnes. Yet another mystery to me. Kelly sent me home with a bag of them as well. And I wrote about them in last week's Local Bounty blog, which I write for San Diego Magazine.
Take a look at these tubers. They're quite small -- perhaps up to three inches long at most. And, they aren't very appetizing looking -- really like little grubs. But don't let their looks put you off. They're crispy and have a lovely, delicate sweet and nutty flavor reminiscent of sunchokes.
Crosnes were introduced in the West in the 1880s by a French farmer and writer, who received them from an important collector of Chinese plants, a Dr. Bretschneider. A Frenchman named Palillieux loved the plant and started producing them. He gave the little tubers (officially Stachys affinis) the name of Crosne—his village. He did such a great job growing and marketing them that they became a hit across Europe. In England, they became known as Chinese artichoke—probably referencing Jerusalem artichokes, although they have nothing to do with Jerusalem or artichokes. It's the flavor they were likely capturing.
Locally, they're grown at in California at Weiser Family Farms, which is where Specialty Produce gets theirs.
So, what do you do with these little plants? The easiest preparation, which will also introduce you to their crunchy, slightly nutty flavor, is to saute them in garlic and either butter or a nutty oil, touched with just a little salt and pepper. However, they're irresistible pickled -- as a snack or for cocktails -- or marinated. I marinated mine yesterday and made a light salad, adapting a recipe I found in the wonderful reference book Vegetables from Amaranth to Zucchini by Elizabeth Schneider.
Marinated Crosne, Carrot and Cherry Tomato Salad with Dill
3/4 pound of crosnes and baby carrots, ideally a mix of half and half
2 small scallions
1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and diced
4 tablespoons rice vinegar
1/2 teaspoon dried dill
3 tablespoons mirin (syrupy Japanese rice wine)
2 tablespoons canola oil
1 pint cherry tomatoes
Optional: fine-snipped fresh dill
1. Rinse crosnes, trim loose rootlets. Slice carrots in half.
2. Drop crosnes and carrots in a large pot of boiling, salted water. Return to boil and blanch for 1 minute. Drain and refresh in cold water to stop the cooking process. Drain and spread on a towel to dry and cool.
3. Cut apart light and dark parts of scallions. Mince the light part and add to a small bowl with rice vinegar, dried dill, and mirin. Blend, then drizzle in oil and whisk to emulsify.
4. Transfer the crosnes and carrots to the bowl and mix with the dressing. Chill for about three hours.
5. To serve, halve the tomatoes and thinly slice the green part of the scallions. You can place the crosnes and carrot mixture on a bed of lettuce or just on the plate. Add the tomatoes and sprinkle with the scallion greens and fresh dill.
Note that you don't need to peel the skin off the crosnes, although Schneider suggests rinsing them, putting them on a towel, sprinkling with coarse salt and rubbing the tubers with the salted towel to get the skin off. Me? I just rinsed them and left the skins on and they were fine.
Currently, the only place I know in San Diego that sells crosnes is Specialty Produce. If you've found them elsewhere, let me know.