We are not experiencing a normal summer where I live. The days are unusually cool for Northern California, and we regularly feel a strong, cool breeze coming from over the mountains–beyond which lies the mighty Pacific Ocean.
I happen to not mind the cooler than normal weather for several reasons; I’m not continually looking for ways to cool off, the kids aren’t demanding I take them to the pool every hour of every day, and outdoor grilling is currently an option instead of a necessity.
The cooler days also mean I can keep cooking “cooler weather dishes,” such as this sweet potato gratin. It’s not particularly heavy, so it doesn’t feel strictly like a Fall or Winter dish, but it’s naturally rich, sweet and hearty. It’s also a cinch to make, is a dish the whole family enjoys, and uses one of my favorite super-foods: sweet potatoes. Rich in beta-carotenes, sweet potatoes are also an excellent source of dietary fiber and potassium.
This recipe is adapted from Ottolenghi The Cookbook. As a side note, Ottolenghi is a patisserie-style shop in London that I frequented when we lived in the Holland Park neighborhood. I was pregnant, always hungry, and constantly in search of good, wholesome cooking that used fresh ingredients. The Ottolenghi shop off Kensington High Street appeared to be a tiny space on a narrow cobblestoned street–the dishes and delicacies inside seemingly vying for space on the crowded shelf behind the window. I always appreciated the apparent simplicity of the dishes–in terms of the number of ingredients they contained, although they boasted wonderfully complex flavors, textures and colors. The founders of Ottolenghi, Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi, have produced several cookbooks to date, and I have given many as gifts to aspiring chef friends. The recipes are amazing, relatively simple, and accompanied by beautiful photos.
6 medium sweet potato (about 3 1/4 lbs), the orange-fleshed kind
5 tbsp coarsely chopped fresh sage leaves, plus extra for garnish
6 cloves garlic crushed
2 tsp coarse sea salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup chicken or vegetable broth
1/2 cup heavy cream*
*I keep meaning to try this dish using coconut milk instead of heavy cream since dairy isn’t always my friend, but somehow I haven’t gotten around to it yet. I’ll post an update when I do to report how it turned out, but I imagine it would work well. The original recipe calls for 1 cup cream, which would be delicious if not a little decadent.
Preheat the oven to 400F.
Scrub, but do not peel, the sweet potatoes then cut them into disks 1/8 to 1/4 inch thick using a mandoline or very sharp knife.
In a large bowl, mix together the sweet potatoes, sage, garlic, salt and pepper. Arrange the slices of sweet potato in a fairly deep, medium-size baking dish by taking tight packs of slices and standing them up next to one another. Sprinkle any remaining bits of garlic or sage from the bowl over the potatoes. Drizzle the broth over the rows of potatoes. Cover the dish with aluminum foil, and roast in the oven for 45 minutes.
Remove the foil and pour the cream over the potatoes. Return to the oven and roast, uncovered, for 25 more minutes. The cream should have thickened. Pierce the potatoes in several different places using a sharp knife to make sure the potatoes are fully cooked and very soft.
Serve immediately. Garnish with chopped sage leaves.