My friend Ryan came over for dinner last night. He has only been to my house a couple of times, and I haven’t really cooked much for him, and never in my own kitchen. Of course this meant I had to flex.
I actually toiled over the menu for a good twenty-four hours. It has been all rainy and blustery for the past few days, so this meal had to be chock full of seasonal, snuggly, comfort food. It had to go with the fire in the fireplace.
I ransacked my binder of food ideas and inspirato, rooted through my current food magazines, poked around on the interwebs and considered favorites of fall pasts (lest you forget, dear readers, this is fun for me). I suddenly remembered a sweet potato dish with caramelized onions that I made for friends, when I lived in Atlanta, in October, 2001. Now I just had to figure out how to build around that. But, much like getting that pesky first sentence out of the way, the menu ball was rolling. From here, I knew it would all start to come together. And it did.
These sweet potatoes that I recall so vividly were only prepared the one time in 2001. The reason I have such a strong remembrance of this recipe, and the date which it was prepared, is the same reason it had not yet been revisited. Don’t get me wrong - this is an absolutely delicious dish. As it happened, that October night, while I was caramelizing the onions to top the potatoes, I received a call informing me of the passing of my very, very dear friend, Sam.
It’s taken a long time to be able to revisit certain things that remind me of him: songs, movies, letters, places, pictures, foods, smells, and even types of clothes (he had a very specific, and colorful, way of dressing). But I now realize that all of these things celebrate his life and his memory, and that it’s time to embrace them. I need to remember Sam and not allow him to fade with each year. But some things, like these sweet potatoes, need to be able create their own, new, memories, and inhabit their own realm in my consciousness.
Fun fact: Sam ran the entire Honolulu Marathon, yes all twenty-six miles of it, backwards. He also rode his bicycle from Virginia to California, one summer. Pretty amazing. I remember he referred to his dad (affectionately) as Duck Butter, slapped his chest when he danced, made a bong in our high school ceramics class, absolutely adored the river, seemed perpetually tanned, and almost always "appeared" at my house, right at dinner time.
So last night I prepared the meal: oyster stew, fennel, apple and sage stuffed pork chops with a fig reduction (recipe coming soon!), sautéed rainbow chard, from my garden, and baked sweet potatoes with caramelized onions, shaved Parmesan and sautéed sage leaves. In my opinion, this was an ideal menu for the brisk, rainy night, the fireplace and, of course, to impress Ryan (and myself). In case you were wondering, he cleaned his plate.
Today, eight years later, I lovingly, and vividly, remember Sam. And now, I know when I embark on preparing, eating and sharing this dish, in the future, I will also think of the rainy night in the canyon, my garden, a roaring fire, good music, a great bottle of Cotes du Rhone, and the magical company of my friends.
Baked Sweet Potatoes with Caramelized Onions, Shaved Parmesan and Sautéed Sage
4 medium sweet potatoes
1 Tablespoon olive oil
1 Tablespoon unsalted butter
1 large, sweet onion, sliced
1 Tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon coarse salt, divided
1/8 teaspoon freshly cracked pepper
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
4-6 fresh sage leaves
1 ounce shaved Parmesan cheese
Preheat oven to 450°. Rub sweet potatoes with oil and salt, poke 2-3 times with a fork, and place on baking sheet in oven. Bake until tender, about 45 minutes.
Melt butter in a medium saucepan over medium-low heat. Add onions, cook until soft, about 15 minutes. Sprinkle sugar, sage, salt and pepper; toss to coat.
Continue to cook, stirring occasionally until onions are caramelized; about 30 minutes. Stir in vinegar and cook an additional 10 minutes.
In a separate pan, sauté whole sage leaves in oil and salt until they are crisp.
Split sweet potatoes open, and top with onions, shaved Parmesan, and crumbled sage leaves.