Sweet Potato Pie

Not only had I never baked a sweet potato pie before this one but I also had never tasted one either! I had heard from others that sweet potato can be even better than pumpkin for pie but I never believed it… until now. After getting around 3lbs of sweet potatoes from a local farm, I decided that it was finally time to experiment with sweet potato pie.

I didn’t like most of the recipes I found online, each one for a different reason. So, I combined and adapted several to come up with my own. Though they weren’t the most beautiful pies because the crusts were a little shallow and uneven, husband and neighbors loved them.

Pie Ingredients (yields two pies, cut quantities in half for a single pie)

  • pie dough (for example, the one I made here)
  • 3 cups cooked and peeled sweet potatoes
  • 6 eggs (yolks and whites separated)
  • 1.5 cups brown sugar
  • 1.5 cups milk
  • 1 cup melted butter
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/4 tsp nutmeg
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 tsp sea salt

Maple Whipped Cream (optional)

  • 1 cup whipping cream
  • 1-2 tbs maple syrup

Make and chill dough for a pie crust of your liking. If you’re making two pies, use a double pie crust recipe. I was just a little bit short on dough and so my edges didn’t come out as high and wide as I would have liked. While your dough chills, start by boiling the sweet potatoes over medium heat for about an hour. After they cook, drain them, let them cool, peel them, and chop/mash before using.

crusts

I like to blind bake my pie crust for about 15 minutes at 350°F to make sure that the bottom cooks through and gets nice and flaky. It was my first time using this method with parchment paper and a pie chain. I discovered that the sides of the pie sink down a bit with this method – not ideal but still better than soggy/raw crust. Next time, I might try filling the paper with dried beans instead to see if it does a better job of providing structure for the sides.

blind bake

While the crusts cook, prepare the pie filling. Combine all of the ingredients in one bowl except for the egg whites (and also the pie dough, of course). Start by beating the yolks with the brown sugar, add in the spices, melted butter, milk, and lastly the sweet potatoes. You can use a hand mixer to get a smooth texture. Next, beat the egg whites with a clean hand mixer until peaks form but they’re still glossy and wet.

beaten egg whites

Gently fold the beaten egg whites into the rest of the mixture until just combined. Pour the filling into the cooled pie crusts. Bake at 350°F for approximately 50 minutes or until the filling looks set.

pie in oven

pie puffed up

You’ll notice that the pie puffs up a little bit like a soufflé while baking. When you take it out of the oven and let it cool it will deflate back down but will keep a light texture from those beaten egg whites. Let the pie cool to room temperature and serve with a dollop of freshly whipped cream, lightly sweetened with maple syrup.

slice with fork

Roasted Delicata Squash With Pumpkin Seeds

I’m a big fan of delicata squash. The flesh is creamy and mildly sweet, it caramelizes beautifully when roasted, the skin is edible, and it’s easier to cut than most larger squash. This is a quick and easy way to make a beautiful and delicious squash side dish.

Ingredients

  • 2-3 delicata squash, depending on side
  • 1/4 cup pumpkin (or sunflower) seeds
  • a generous pour of olive oil
  • sea salt
  • cayenne pepper

As promised, this recipe is super easy. Preheat the oven to 375°F. After rinsing off any dirt from the field, cut each delicata squash in half lengthwise. Scoop out the seeds and stringy bits. Cut the squash into thick half-moon-shaped slices (as pictured). Put all of the pieces into a large baking dish. You’ll want to have as many of the pieces touching the glass or metal baking pan as possible because those are the spots where they’ll caramelize.

After you’ve cut them all and placed them in the baking dish, coat the pieces of squash with a generous pour of olive oil. Season with sea salt and cayenne pepper to taste. Toss them with your hands to coat everything evenly. Lastly sprinkle the pumpkin or sunflower seeds on top before baking in the oven for approximately 45 minutes or until the pieces are completely soft and the underneath side has caramelized without burning. I like using a glass baking dish so that I can lift the baking dish and peak underneath to check when it’s ready.

I like serving delicata squash with just about everything and have been known to make a dinner out of it alone too. For a nice fall dinner, I might bake some chicken with garlic and serve it with this squash and some cabbage (braised, raw as a salad, or pickled as kraut or kimchi are all good cabbage options here). If you’re not a cabbage fan, a green salad or wilted greens pair nicely too.

Ribollita

It looks like the last few posts have all been filled with warm bowls of comforting food. It’s the time of year for hot soups and stews. So, here’s another favorite. Ribollita is a Tuscan soup made of seasonal beans and vegetables. It gets some of that delicious umami flavor from the cooked down parmigiano reggiano rinds and pancetta, not to mention the homemade chicken broth (see the post on liquid gold). Though, of course, it can also be made vegetarian or vegan by substituting vegetable broth for the chicken broth and omitting the pancetta and cheese.

Ribollita ingredients

Ingredients

  • 2 cups of dried cannellini beans (if you can get fresh ones, even better!), cooked
  • 2 tbs olive oil
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 1 fennel bulb, diced
  • 3-4 carrots, chopped
  • 3 stalks of celery, chopped
  • 4oz of pancetta tesa, cut into small pieces
  • 5 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 3-4 pieces of leftover rinds from parmigiano reggiano cheese
  • 2-3 cups of diced tomatoes (from a jar works just as well, if tomatoes aren’t in season)
  • 3-4 cups of homemade chicken broth
  • 1-2 sweet peppers (these are corno di toro), cleaned and chopped
  • a few handfuls of romano beans (you can use any type of green bean), cleaned and roughly chopped
  • 1 large bunch of kale, chopped
  • a few handfuls of baby chard (or a small bunch of regular chard)
  • small bunch of parsley, chopped
  • sea salt
  • cayenne pepper
  • white pepper
  • 2-3 bay leaves
  • grated parmigiano reggiano cheese (optional)
  • dry or toasted bread (optional)

You’ll want to plan ahead when making ribollita, especially if you’re using dried beans. Sort your dried beans to make sure there aren’t any rocks or unappealing beans in the bag you’re using. Rinse them thoroughly and soak them overnight or at least 8-10 hours in cold water. If you’re keeping them much longer than 12 hours before cooking, you’ll want to refrigerate them. When you return to the pot after letting them soak, you’ll notice that they will have soaked up a fair amount of water and have grown in volume.

Drain the beans and put them in a large pot with a couple inches of water cover. Bring the pot to a boil. When you notice the foamy substance rise to the surface, drain and rinse the beans and rinse the pot. Replace the beans in the pot and cover again with fresh water, a couple inches above the level of the beans. Bring the pot back up to a simmer and cook for at least an hour.

While the beans cook, prep your vegetables and other ingredients. Keep them separate so that you can add them in order of slowest cooking to quickest cooking. Begin by adding a little olive oil to a large soup pot and sweat the onions until just translucent. One by one, add the garlic, carrots, celery, fennel, and pancetta. After these start to cook a bit, add the peppers. Around this time, the beans should be almost ready to add to the pot too. Add them with their cooking liquid. Also add the parmigiano reggiano rinds, bay leaves, diced tomatoes, and chicken broth. Let this simmer for at least another 20 minutes before adding the kale, chard, romano (or other green) beans, and parsley. Season with sea salt, cayenne pepper, and white pepper. Cook for another 20-30 minutes.

Though delicious right off the stove, the ribollita is even better the next day. The name ribollita actually means reboiled and this soup benefits from bringing it up to a boil again when you reheat it. I also suggest letting it cool so it’s just warmer than warm (not hot) when you eat it. Many people enjoy putting some pieces of day old bread or toasted bread in the soup when serving. I like it both ways (pictured without bread). If you like, also sprinkle some freshly grated parmigiano reggiano on top.

ribollita on table

Liquid Gold aka Homemade Chicken Broth

Perhaps even more important than getting your flu shot, replenishing the freezer supply of homemade chicken broth before flu season begins is essential. When you’re sniffly, achy, and exhausted you’re not going to want to make anything, much less a soup that takes several hours to cook. As there’s nothing more soothing and restorative than a hot bowl or mug of homemade chicken broth, I always keep a few containers on hand in the freezer. It’s also great for cooking, though I never seem to get that far with it. Really, with a broth this good, you just drink it as is – no need for meat, vegetables, noodles, matzah balls, or even a spoon!

Ingredients

  • 1 chicken, cut into parts
  • water
  • 4-5 carrots, peeled or unpeeled, whole
  • 3-4 parsnips, peeled, whole (or parsley root, if you can find it)
  • 1 large celery root, peeled, cut in four
  • 3 stalks of celery, cut in half
  • small bunch of flat-leaf parsley
  • 2 small or 1 large onion, peeled, whole
  • salt
  • cayenne pepper, ground
  • white pepper, ground

Getting a good quality bird is really important when it comes to making soup. Mom and grandma always said that the bigger and older the bird the richer and tastier the broth. Though I don’t usually select my chicken based on age or size, I do like to get mine from a local organic chicken farm. I like to know that she roamed around in the sun, pecking at insects in the grass. The factory farm alternative is not so picturesque and, frankly, I think it affects the quality of the meat.

Cut your fresh chicken into parts (legs, wings, breasts, breast bone, back). Place the pieces into a large soup pot and cover with cool water. I usually go a couple inches above the level of the chicken but leave enough room to be able to add veggies to the pot later.

Bring the water and chicken to a boil. Use a skimmer to remove the foam that rises to the top after it starts to boil. When foam stops rising, add the vegetables. I mentioned above which ones I leave whole or cut. I usually tie the parley together gently with one of the thicker pieces of parsley. It requires a little finesse to tie it without breaking it but it makes it a lot easier to remove from the soup later. I add the parsley last so that it floats on top. After you add all of the vegetables, season with salt, cayenne pepper, and white pepper.

At this point, lower the temperature on the stove to a simmer and cover part-way with a lid. Simmer the soup on low heat for around 2 hours after adding the vegetables.

When the soup is done, remove all of the vegetables and meat. Throw away the onions, parsley, and celery. If you don’t mind mushy, you can eat the carrots, parsnip, and celery root. The vegetables were really just there to give the broth an amazing flavor. The meat, however, should be really tender and delicious after boiling for so long. In fact, the cartilage even start to break down and get soft. It’s not the most flavorful meat preparation but it can be dressed up with a sauce or combined with more dominant side dishes. I actually like it the way it is out of the pot. Again, the star of the show is the broth. So, ladle some liquid gold into your favorite mug or bowl right after making it and freeze the rest for a rainy day.

Black-Eyed Pea and Lamb Stew

The leaves are changing color and it’s starting to feel more like fall outside. So, I feel more like cooking warm and soothing meals like this black-eyed pea and lamb stew. Luckily, here in the Bay Area, it’s still fresh bean season and so there’s no need to soak dried beans overnight!

shelling black eyed peas

The first two steps (the beans and the meat) can be prepared the day before and kept in the fridge separately until you’re ready to cook the stew.

Ingredients (these are approximations, feel free to change to your taste and local ingredients)

  • 2lbs of fresh black-eyed peas
  • 1.5lb lamb roast
  • olive oil
  • sea salt
  • white pepper (ground)
  • turmeric (ground)
  • cayenne pepper (ground)
  • 10 cloves of garlic (5 for the meat and 5 for the stew)
  • 1 large onion
  • 2 small sweet peppers (I used yellow corno di toro peppers)
  • 6-8 carrots
  • 2-3 stalks of celery
  • 3-4 heirloom tomatoes
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • bunch of parsley, chopped
  • 2-3 bay leaves

done shelling

These black-eyed peas were definitely more time and labor-intensive to shell than the cannellini or cranberry beans. They made a delicious stew but feel free to substitute a different type of bean that’s available in your area and/or use dried beans (just remember to soak dried beans overnight).

start to boil

After rinsing the shelled beans, cover with water and bring them to a boil.

change water

If you see this kind of slimy film and big bubbles form while boiling, drain the beans into a colander and rinse them again.

bring to boil again

Rinse the pot, return the beans, cover with fresh water, and bring it up to a boil again.

beans done

Cook the beans for around 35-45 minutes, or until they are soft enough to smoosh with the back of the spoon. Remove them from the stove and let them cool before refrigerating to use the next day or to use to make the stew in the same day.

lamb roast

The meat can also be roasted a day ahead. Stab the roast several times with a small sharp knife and insert a piece of garlic (either a small clove or a thick sliver) into each hole. Drizzle olive oil all over the roast and season liberally with salt, cayenne, and white pepper. Bake at 400°F for about an hour. After the roast cools, you can either refrigerate it or use it immediately to make the stew.

cut lamb

I refrigerated both the beans and meat overnight. Before making the stew, I sliced the meat and then chopped it to make small uniform bites to be added later to the stew.

drippings

I also saved the drippings from the bottom of the pan that solidified in the fridge overnight. These add some extra flavor and richness to the stew.

veggies

Time to prep and chop all of the fresh veggies.

cooking veggies

Saute the chopped vegetables in a generous pour of olive oil. I like to add them one by one to the cooking pot as I prep the next vegetable. Since some vegetables take longer to cook than others, chop in the order you’d like them to cook in, for example: onions, celery, carrots, peppers, and tomatoes. Season this mixture with lemon juice, sea salt, cayenne pepper, white pepper, and a generous amount of turmeric. Remember to add more salt than you’d normally use because you did not season the beans when you cooked them earlier.

now add meat and beans

After the vegetables start to cook, add the bay leaves and most of the chopped parsley (reserving a few sprigs for presentation).

add meat and beans

Once the vegetables have cooked down and the carrots are softening, add the black-eyed peas (and their cooking liquid), cut pieces of lamb, and reserved pan drippings.

and boil some more

Boil for another 20-30 minutes.

remove bay leaves

When it’s ready, remember to remove the bay leaves. They give great flavor but are tough and not edible.

it's ready

Serve a couple ladles of stew with a few sprigs of fresh parsley on top and, if you wish, some fresh country bread on the side. This stew, like most stews, is even better the second (and third) day because the flavors combine and penetrate all the ingredients while in the fridge overnight. So, you can prepare this stew in advance and/or enjoy leftovers for a couple days. Either way, if your family is anything like mine, they’ll be asking for seconds.

bowl of stew