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Jewish World Review
A sweet sweet potato treat
By Marialisa Calta
http://www.JewishWorldReview.com | It's fall and time to pay homage to the humble tuber we all know and (some of us) love: the sweet potato. It might be the only time of year when we give it any thought at all, but sweet potatoes, according to "The Oxford Companion to American Food and Drink," are "the sixth principal food crop in the world."
Now, when discussing the sweet potato, the elephant in the room is, of course, the yam. Yams are an entirely different and unrelated species, rarely grown in the United States but popular in the tropics, and though they look similar, yams can weigh up to 120 pounds.
"Sweet potatoes in the United States are frequently misidentified as yams," says "The Oxford Companion."
Unless you shop in Caribbean or Hispanic markets (where yams are often sold in chunks), you are unlikely to encounter a true yam. So even if the tubers you buy in the supermarket are sold as yams, they are indeed sweet potatoes. End of story.
Sweet potatoes make a delicious snack and a healthy one, too. They are a good source of fiber and vitamins A and C, and they have no fat and 4 grams of protein per serving. Simply bake or microwave them as you would a potato, and eat with salt and pepper, hot sauce, maple syrup or brown sugar. For supper, slice them lengthwise into "fingers," toss them with oil and salt, and bake them at 400 F for sweet potato "fries." Then there's the old standby, "candied" sweet potatoes baked with brown sugar and marshmallows. That's the way Julia Child liked them. At a book-launch party years ago, Jacques Pepin told Child he hated sweet potatoes with marshmallows. "That's because you're French," she said. Pepin laughed.
SWEET POTATO TART TATIN
- 1 sheet frozen, store-bought puff pastry, thawed (see Cook's note)
- 3/4 cup sugar plus 1 tablespoon for sprinkling
- 8 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 16 pieces
- 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
- 1-1/2 pounds sweet potatoes, peeled and sliced into 1/8-inch-thick rounds
- 1 large egg
- 1 tablespoon milk
- ice cream, for serving, optional
Cook's note: If you can, buy an all-butter puff pastry, such as Dufour brand, sold in natural-foods stores and specialty shops. It will give the tart a rich flavor and tender texture. If you can't find it, consider making your own puff pastry, or buy a regular supermarket brand.
Heat the oven to 375 F. Line a baking sheet with baking parchment. Place the puff pastry sheet on your work surface and cut out a 10-inch circle. (Coat the scraps with melted butter, top with cinnamon sugar or jam or grated cheese, and bake, along with the tart, for an extra treat.) Set the puff pastry round on the prepared baking sheet and prick all over with a fork. Refrigerate while you make the topping.
Place the 3/4 cup sugar in a small saucepan and cover with 1/4 cup water. Gently stir with a spoon to make sure all the sugar is wet; it should have the consistency of wet sand. Place a cover on slightly askew, and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Cook until the syrup is clear and producing syrupy-looking medium-sized bubbles, 3 to 4 minutes. Remove the cover, and cook until the sugar is a light butterscotch color and its temperature reaches 320 F on a candy thermometer. Turn off the heat. (The sugar will continue to cook.) Once the temperature reaches 350 F (this will take only a few minutes) whisk in the butter, a piece at a time, waiting until each addition is completely incorporated before adding the next. Stir in the vanilla, and then pour into a 10-inch cast iron skillet.
Cover the caramel with the sliced potatoes, starting in the center and overlapping in a spiraling outward circle as you go. Top with the puff pastry circle. Beat the egg and milk together, and brush over the pastry. Then sprinkle with the remaining tablespoon of sugar.
Bake until the pastry is puffed and golden, 40 to 45 minutes. Remove from the oven and let sit for 10 minutes before inverting onto a large plate. Slice into wedges and serve with or without ice cream.
Recipe from "DamGoodSweet" by David Guas and Raquel Pelzel (Taunton Press, 2009)
Yield: 6 servings
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Marialisa Calta is the author of "Barbarians at the Plate: Taming and Feeding the American Family" (Perigee, 2005).
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© 2009, Marialisa Calta. Distributed by Newspaper Enterprise Assn.