COOK } What to Do With Sunchokes

Sunchokes grew wild on a friend's land down in North Carolina when I was growing up, which meant crumpled brown bags filled with the gnarly little root vegetables, dirt clinging in every crevice, often showed up at our door.

If you don't have a friend delivering them to your doorstep, you can find them at local farmers markets and occasionally the grocery store.

I like them nicely browned with pancetta and corn for a flavorful base for seared sea scallops. When browned, the sunchokes, also known as Jerusalem artichokes, develop an earthy sweetness that really complements the scallop and corn. The hash would make a great side dish on its own as well.

Seared Scallops with Sunchoke, Corn and Pancetta Hash
makes 4 servings

12 sea scallops
4 slices of thick pancetta
4 ears of corn (when in season), shucked and kernels sliced off into a bowl OR 1 bag of frozen sweet corn
¾ pound sunchokes, scrubbed clean and cut into ¼ cubes
2 tbsp unsalted butter
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
chopped parsley

Dice pancetta into small chunks and cook over medium heat in a large sauté pan. Drain pancetta on paper towels once it has browned, reserving 1-2 tablespoons of rendered grease in the pan.

Add 1 tablespoon of butter and sunchokes to the pan with the pancetta fat and toss to coat. Cook over medium high heat, stirring occasionally, until sunchokes begin to brown and become tender, about 8-10 minutes.

Add corn to the sauté pan with 1 tablespoon butter. Stir with sunchokes and cook for 3 minutes. Return pancetta to the pan, and remove from heat.

Meanwhile, in another sauté pan, heat olive oil over medium high heat. Pat scallops dry and season lightly with salt and pepper. Add to the hot pan and allow to cook on one side, without moving, for 2-3 minutes. The scallops should release easily if they are properly browned. Turn and cook for another 2-3 minutes.

Scoop a serving of the sunchoke hash onto each plate and top with 3 scallops. Sprinkle with parsley.

3 more ways to use sunchokes:

• Slice 'em very thin and deep fry them in peanut oil for chips. Sprinkle with a little Old Bay or seasoning of your choice.
• Cut into small sticks and add them raw to a fall salad with sliced pears, fennel and blue cheese.

• Make cream of sunchoke soup, from Maryland's Next Step Produce (a great sunchoke source at the Dupont FreshFarm Market).