Let’s have an immensely important discussion here today. Let’s pretend that we find ourselves stranded in a land far, far away (you know, like Lost, but hopefully without all the drama). And let’s say that you, being your overparanoid pessimistic self (remember, we’re pretending – I know you are all eternal optimists and only see the absolute best in everything and everyone – much like myself….) packed your bag in preparation for the stranded-ness and have brought along your very favorite item of nourishment. Enough to hopefully last until the rescue squad arrives after you’ve written “SOS!!” and “Help Me!!” in the sand a zillion times with that long skinny stick lying on the beach.
Are you with me? If so, then tell me: What would that item of nourishment be? Food only please – I don’t want to hear that you’d bring a picture of your cat or something…
This question reminds me a little of the study abroad trip I took to Italy a few years ago. I was stranded in one of the most gorgeous countries in the world and forced to eat things like pasta, gelato, and pizza, as well as drink wine and espresso for four weeks straight. By week 3, I was in desperate need of some French fries (with ranch dressing, of course because 8 years ago I ate everything with the stuff). I managed to finally get my fix at the Hard Rock Cafe in Rome, scarfing down fries as if I were in a fry-eating contest. Thinking about this now tells me two things: first, that I was totally stupid and can’t believe I was thinking of french fries amidst the plethora of some of the best food on earth and second, also how stupid I was to have wasted an entire meal on the Hard Rock Cafe. Lesson learned. Next time, when in Rome, I will be more clever.
Since then I’ve matured a little bit and have a new favorite stranded island food. Sweet potato. I could eat sweet potatoes any way imaginable: pureed sauce, mashed potatoes, ice cream, baked or fried ‘fries’ or ‘chips’, roasted, boiled, biscuits, pancakes, casseroles at Thanksgiving, and last but certainly not least – pie form. And get this: In the US, North Carolina is the leading state in sweet potato production, having provided 38.5% of the 2007 US production of sweet potatoes. Clearly, myself and these tasty tubers were meant to be.
In addition to the taters, I also have quite the affinity for anything reminiscent of ‘Cajun cuisine’. So when I saw a recipe for a sweet potato and andouille pie, I felt like an old lady on the beach – one equipped with a yard sale metal detector that just beeped with unflagging resolve as a result of the shiny Rolex watch buried beneath the sand. Jackpot!
The pie comes together as any regular pie and isn’t a dish with quick preparation. I prepped the dough and sweet potato filling the night before so I could quickly throw it together the following night. I’m actually glad it isn’t a quick dish or else I’d be tempted to make it once a week and just eat that every night for dinner. I recommend that you absolutely, positively do not substitute another pie crust. The cornmeal crust provides an added comfort to the pie that I’m afraid would be less than perfect if left out. I also recommend serving the tangy apple salad alongside, as suggested. The tangyness of the buttermilk vinaigrette (yes, vinaigrette – milky without the artery clogging thickness) is a great pairing with the robust spicyness of the pie. And really, do you need an excuse to make buttermilk vinaigrette?
Oh, and did I mention just how wonderfully good for you sweet potatoes are? Check it: One baked sweet potato (3 1/2 ounce serving) provides about twice the recommended daily allowance of Vitamin A, yet it contains only 141 calories making it valuable for those of us with tendency towards curvaceousness. This nutritious vegetable provides 42 percent of the RDA for vitamin C, 6 percent of the RDA for calcium, 10 percent of the RDA for iron, and 8 percent of the RDA for thiamine for healthy adults. It is low in sodium and is a great source of fiber and other important vitamins and minerals. A complex carbohydrate food source, it provides beta carotene which may be a factor in reducing the risk of certain cancers.
What’s not to love about these little buggers?
Andouille & Sweet Potato Pie w/ Tangy Apple Salad
Adapted from Food & Wine, May 2009; serves 6
1 lb sweet potatoes, pierced w/ a fork
1 cup yellow cornmeal
1 cup AP flour
1 t salt, plus more for seasoning
1 stick unsalted butter, cubed and chilled
1/4 cup plus 2 T ice water
1 T olive oil
1/2 lb andouille sausage, cut into 1 inch pieces
1/2 small onion, finely chopped
1 T minced garlic
1/2 t dried sage, crumbled
1 cup 1/2 and 1/2
fresh ground pepper
3 egg yolks
Preheat oven to 350. Place potatoes on rack and bake until soft, about 45 minutes. Let cool. Meanwhile, in food processor, combine flour, cornmeal, salt by pulsing a couple of times. Add chilled butter and pulse until mixture is coarse. Add add water and pulse until dough comes together. Turn out onto clean surface and knead a few times, until smooth.
Lightly flour work surface and roll out dough to 13-inch round, about 1/4 inch thick. Ease into 9-inch pie plate. Trim overhang to one inch and fold under and crimp to your liking. Prick the bottom w/ fork, several times. Line dough with foil and pie weights (or coins…). Bake about 30 minutes, remove foil and weights and bake another 10 until crust is light brown.
Meanwhile, in large skillet, heat oil over high heat. Add sausage and cook about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add onion, garlic, sage and cook about 5 minutes longer. Let cool slightly.
Peel sweet potatoes and transfer to food processor. Add 1/2 and 1/2 and process until smooth. Season w/ salt and pepper. Add egg yolks and process until incorporated. Transfer to large bowl and mix in sausage mixture. Pour filling into cooked pie shell and bake ~45 minutes, until custard is set.
Tangy Apple Salad
2 T cider vinegar
pinch of sugar
1/4 cup buttermilk
1/4 canola oil
salt and pepper
2 large Granny Smiths, peeled and cut into matchsticks (julienned)
2 6-oz bunches watercress, thick stems discarded
In large bowl, whisk vinegar w/ sugar and buttermilk. Gradually whisk in oil and season mixture with salt and pepper. Add apple and watercress. Serve immediately.