I could write about a lot of things.
Some things are right in front of me: a mug of hot coffee, a warm scone, the wilting basil plant I’m desperately trying to keep alive. My table is piled with read and half-read books by friends and colleagues and mentors and writers whose minds I’d like to inhabit for just a second, surrounding me like a fort. My brain is filled with ideas, bursting with them, for articles, for books, for projects—and yet I always want more. The heater clanks. The windows rattle against the early-morning wind. My hair smells like lavender.
Other things to write about already took place: namely, weddings. I went to three weddings in October. One in Beverly, MA, one in Lancaster, PA, one in San Francisco, CA. Megan married Jeff. Emily married Ryan. Becca married Justin. I drove to two of these weddings. Flew to one. I was greeted by old friends, new friends, complete strangers; the Amish countryside, the perfect produce of a West Coast farmer’s market, way too much wine.
Megan, a colleague at America’s Test Kitchen, is passionate and detail oriented, especially when it comes to food, and her wedding was a parade of perfectly-placed details, luscious bites and a carefully-curated collection of desserts. Emily, one of my oldest friends, looked radiant as she walked down the aisle—part woman and part child, the clash no doubt a result of my own inability to completely separate our individual presents from our collective past. I gave a reading at the ceremony of my college roommate, Becca—part of the introduction to Mastering the Art of French Cooking, a choice that seemed strange at first, until I realized that it was the perfect way to talk about not only food but all that it stands for (family, community, adventure, love).
I could also write about how when November finally rolled around I was… tired.
But as I write it’s Sunday morning—a beautiful morning just begging for me to go out for a jog—and I don’t feel like using words to occupy either the sensory present or its weightier partner, the past. So I'm going to tell you about these sweet potatoes instead.
I’ve written about my love of Ottolenghi’s cookbooks before. The newest one, Jerusalem, just came out and of course I bought it right up. This is the first recipe in the book. Just one glance and I knew. Roasted sweet potato wedges—served with fried slivers of red chiles and green onions, drizzled with a balsamic glaze, nestled with fresh figs and (if you want) chunks of goat cheese. It’s salty and sweet, cooked and raw, spicy and tangy and warm. This is the kind of cooking I like best: simple yet unexpected, casual but interesting, home cooking with a bit of an edge.
Roasted Sweet Potatoes & Fresh Figs
From JERUSALEM, by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi
4 sweet potatoes
5 tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 ½ tablespoons superfine sugar (though I used regular sugar)
12 green onions, halved and cut into 1 ½ inch segments
1 red chile, thinly sliced
6 figs, ripe ones, quartered
5 ounces goat cheese (optional)
salt and pepper
Preheat your oven to 475 degrees Fahrenheit.
Wash and then cut your sweet potatoes into wedges – (cut the potato in half, and then each half into three wedges). Toss with 3 tablespoons oil, salt and pepper to your liking. Place on a baking sheet, skin side down, and roast for about 25 – 35 minutes, until, as Ottolenghi says, they are “soft but not mushy.” Let cool.
Make a balsamic reduction: Combine vinegar and sugar in a small pan. Simmer for about 4 minutes, give or take, or until it thickens. (Ottolenghi says: “Be sure to remove the pan from the heat when the vinegar is still runnier than honey; it will continue to thicken as it cools.”)
Heat up the rest of the oil in a saucepan and quick-fry the chile and green onion slices (for about 4 – 5 minutes over medium heat, stirring often to avoid burning).
Arrange the sweet potato wedges on a big serving platter. Spoon the oil/chile/onion mixture over top. Nestle the fig quarters among the potatoes. Drizzle with the balsamic reduction. Season with salt and pepper to taste. This is great at room temperature, with the goat cheese (if you want it) crumbled over top just before serving.