Sweet Potato Gratin
A few days ago I reorganized my cookbook shelves. With two children already hatched and one to go this is now the kind of activity that brings me tremendous joy. I can’t believe I once danced on the bar at Coyote Ugly and now I love immersing myself in my cookbooks. Cookbooks are my relics of adventures, full of recipes that I think are beautiful, enticing, romantic, challenging, mystifying…. and each book tells a story. Each book has a reason. Each one was a gift – from someone special or just from me to myself. I know where each one came from and I know what each one has to offer. (At this point I should mention that this is sort of a feat because I have *cough* some-hundred of them. Let’s not count.)
So because I have more than, um, most people, I have to have them categorized for quick access. For instance Southern restaurants start on the left hand side, next comes creole, then New Orleans restaurants and then French. French cooking turns into French baking which then turns into general baking and then desserts. Get it? Well….next shelf down….British books start on the left hand side, Jamie Oliver rounds out the section which then segues into Italian books with his Jamie does Italy smack dab in the middle. But yesterday, as I was debating whether River Cafe should go to the left (British) or right (Italian) of Jamie I noticed something big: My British cookbooks just outnumbered my Italian ones. Great Queen of England!
I knew this day was coming. I could see the cheeky little devils sneaking in: Nigel Slater. Books for Cooks. Madhar Jaffrey. With so many options it is really a shame that Brits get such a bum rap when it comes to food reputation. It’s sad, really, what a few centuries of haggis and beans from a can can do to your name. Now I would put London restaurants up against New York any day. Maybe not the cheap Chinese delivery but overall London can really really throw down! Prominent chefs at the moment include Jamie Oliver and Gordon Ramsey of course. Also Heston Blumenthal, Angela Hartnett, Yotem Ottolenghi, Giorgio Locatelli (the nicest Michelin chef on the planet). Hugh Fearnley-Wittingstall (what a great name!), Mark Hix, Skye Gyngell, David Thompson and Tom Aikens. They aren’t all British citizens but those are the people making their name on the London food scene. And the restaurants? Indian. Thai. Gastropubs. Sushi. Spanish. Italian. I could give you lists…eventually I will…of outstanding restaurants you HAVE to try. Plus the grocery stores carry waaaaaaaaaay better produce than the average grocery store in the US. From Tesco Metro to Waitrose and in between you have Saintsbury, Marks & Spencer, Morrisons. Produce, meat and dairy is extremely clearly labeled with it’s point of origin – meaning you know that the raspberries you buy are from Kent, the strawberries are from Essex and the meat is from the Wiltshire countryside.
With this knowledge it frustrates me to no end to hear people bad mouthing British cuisine. The only thing they (the British) are doing wrong is not spending any money promoting their award winning restaurants, outdoor markets and chefs. (Can you tell I’m American? If you have something good, tell everyone, dammit!)
So, in honour of the British colonizing my cookbook shelves, I am giving you the world’s very best preparation of sweet potatoes. I can’t claim this as my own, no matter how American I am, so I have to give full credit to Yotem Ottolengi – the chef behind this recipe, and the eponomous deli in Notting Hill.
Listen carefully: Make. This. For. Thanksgiving. You’ll beat the stuffing out of the turkey. I swear.
- 6 medium sweet potatoes (about 1.5kg in total)
- 5 tablespoons sage leaves, roughly chopped (plus some extra to garnish)
- 6 garlic cloves, crushed
- 2 teaspoons coarse sea salt
- 1/2 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
- 1 cup / 250 ml whipping cream
- Preheat the oven to 400ºF / 200ºC. Wash the sweet potatoes (do not peel them) and cut them into discs 5mm / 1/4-inch thick. A mandolin makes this job super easy but you could use a sharp knife.
- In a bowl, mix together the sliced sweet potatoes, sage, garlic, salt and pepper. Arrange the slices of sweet potato in a deep, medium-sized ovenproof dish by taking tight packs of them and standing them up next to each other. They should fit together quite tightly so you get parallel lines of sweet potato slices (skins showing) along the length or width of the dish. Throw any remaining bits of garlic or sage from the bowl over the potatoes. Cover the dish with foil, place in the oven and roast for 45 minutes. Remove the foil and pour the cream evenly over the potatoes. Roast, uncovered, for a further 25 minutes. The cream should thicken. Stick a sharp knife in different places in the dish to make sure the potatoes are completely soft.
- Serve immediately, garnished with sage, or leave to cool down. In any case, bringing the potatoes to the table in the baking dish, after scraping the outside clean, will make a strong impact.