When I set out to create my holiday menus I always start with the basics. It’s not Thanksgiving without turkey, potatoes, cranberries, rolls, stuffing, sweet potatoes or squash and pies. But within those classic parameters there are endless possibilities. Each year is an opportunity to learn from the last and to think outside the box while still capturing those flavors that to me embody the holidays.
This recipe from Julia Turshen’s new book, Small Victories, fits into my holiday menu beautifully. It’s a simple classic with a twist. For years I held firm to my belief that if they didn’t come from a can shellacked in a sweet sticky syrup and then covered with toasted marshmallows then they weren’t sweet potatoes. Some may say I’ve matured.
Julia and I both agree that so many recipes do us all a disservice by saying that an onion can be caramelized in as little as ten minutes. To truly take an onion from its raw pungent state to the point where it melts into a puddle of deep sweetness you must invest at least forty-five minutes to the process. Don’t let this keep you from moving forward with this recipe but rather embrace the slow of it, casually stirring the sticky onions with one hand and a nip of red wine in the other.
Beyond the caramelizing there’s very little to be done. A tip of balsamic here, a stir of cooked bacon or pancetta there, and tuck in of sweet potatoes roasted until tender on the inside with edges trimmed in umber.
There’s a dual purpose in sharing this recipe now. I’m fairly certain it’s the final dish to complete your holiday menu and also, Julia and her publisher, Chronicle books are giving us all the opportunity to extend our holiday table by helping others fill their own. If you feel like helping others ensure that they too have the opportunity to share a meal please consider donating here.
This time at the table is special, perhaps this year more so than any other as our country feels deeply divided. I won’t make light of the pain so many are feeling and the fear that covers many but I hope and pray that the time at the table is covered in love and grace. There is something deeply intimate about sharing a meal together and I hope for all of you the time is fruitful and filled with radiating thanks giving.
2 pounds sweet potatoes, unpeeled, scrubbed and cut into 1/2-inch dice
2 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
4 ounces pancetta, finely diced (I used bacon)
1 large red onion, thinly sliced
2 Tbsp dark brown sugar, honey, or maple syrup
2 Tbsp red wine vinegar
Preheat your oven to 425°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
Put the sweet potatoes on the prepared baking sheet. Drizzle with the olive oil, sprinkle with 1/2 tsp salt and the red pepper flakes (if using), and toss everything together. Roast the sweet potatoes, stirring a couple of times, until tender and browned, about 45 minutes. Set aside.
Meanwhile, in a large skillet over medium-high heat, cook the pancetta, stirring, until the fat is rendered and the pancetta is crisp, 5 to 10 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the pancetta to a bowl and set aside.
Add the sliced onion to the skillet (add a little olive oil if there’s not enough fat in the pan – it will depend on how much fat is in the pancetta, so trust your instincts here). Turn the heat to medium-low and cook the onion, stirring now and then, until the onion has collapsed and is very soft and browned in spots, about 45 minutes. Stir in the brown sugar and vinegar and cook until the liquid has evaporated, about 5 minutes. Season to taste with salt.
Add the reserved pancetta and sweet potatoes to the skillet and stir everything together.
*This post is the second in our series with Chateau St. Jean Winery in Sonoma. Wine and date nights are like peanut butter and jelly; made for each other. So we’re bringing back Date Night In here on the blog with great recipes and wine pairings to make a date night at home something to celebrate.
Our first (and only) fondue pot was green. Looking back perhaps green may not have been the best choice as the cheese that filled its deep bowl took on its olive tone. I thought we needed it. We were newly married and I was just taking a deep dive into my love of food so a fondue pot seemed a necessary investment, both for its promise of romance and heaping amounts of cheese. Somehow I overlooked the fact that we had no money and never ate fondue.
We used it once. The bowl was so large it required pounds of cheese in order to stay molten for longer than five minutes. We never figured out how to keep the tea light from scorching the cheese at the bottom while the top required a knife to cut through. What was suppose to be a romantic meal ended up causing undue stress and lots of leftover cheese. The fondue pot lived in the back of the cupboard before it was moved to the garage and then finally donated to Goodwill along with everybody else’s fondue pots.
But I wasn’t giving up on the idea of sharing a meal of melted cheese with the man I love because nothing says romance like a meal eaten with your hands. Strange? Maybe. To me it feels comfortable and and yes even just a little bit sensual (sorry, kids). It’s a meal made for lingering, for slowly dipping roasted potatoes into melted cheese and cutting the richness with slices of crisp apple. For conversations that outlast the candles on the table and for the evenings when you need the date but don’t care to spend hours in the kitchen.
Two questions always come up when people ask me about my book, Date Night In. What’s your favorite meal in the book? I love them all, truly, but the fried chicken and black pepper biscuit sandwich with the bourbon butterscotch ice cream pie for dessert is probably one of my finest moments. What’s your favorite EASY date night meal? The answer is always fondue. In the book I write about Raclette – a Swiss mountain cheese that requires nothing more than a hot oven and few things for dipping. But when there’s a bit more time (I mean we’re only talking about ten minutes here) I turn to this Roasted Chanterelle Fondue.
There’s no need to dig into the depths of your cupboard or scour the shelves at Goodwill for a fondue pot – a hearty cast iron skillet or small sauté pan will work. You don’t even need fresh Chanterelles, although that is ideal, dried ones work beautifully or use another favorite mushroom.
I really do love spending hours in the kitchen, folding butter into delicate layers, tenderly whisking olive oil and egg yolks into creamy submission, and watching sugar transform from snow to straw to copper but I also love it when a few ingredients somehow, as if by magic, turn into something that, just for a moment, takes your breath away. I love knowing that I really had so little to do with it, you know? Then I can simply sit back and take it all in as the gift it is and enjoy the company of my date. Sure I’ll take credit as he nods in appreciation, I’ll even let him believe that I worked tirelessly in the kitchen so that he does all the dishes while I slowly finish my wine.
This dish is just how I always want my dates with my husband to feel – special but simple, comfortable yet romantic. Marriage isn’t always easy but dinner can be.
Chanterelle and Gruyere Fondue
Pair with Pinot Noir
6 ounces fresh chanterelles, cleaned and roughly chopped or 1 ounce dried chanterelles
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 1/2 tablespoons finely chopped shallot
3/4 cup white wine
1/2 tablespoon cornstarch
1/2 pound/ 2 cups grated gruyere
Slice apple or pears
Chef 1: If you’re using dried chanterelles soak them in hot water for 10 minutes then drain.
Chef 2: Roughly chop the chanterelles.
Chef 1: In a medium saucepan sauté the shallots in olive oil until translucent, about 5 minutes over medium high heat. Add the chanterelles along with a hefty pinch of salt and a few grinds of pepper.
Chef 2: In a medium bowl toss the grated gruyere with the cornstarch until evenly coated.
Chef 1: Turn down the heat and carefully add the white wine.
While Chef 1 stirs, Chef 2 slowly adds the cheese, waiting until it melts before adding the next addition.
Chef 1: Add the cheese to a fondue pot, or if that’s not available simply pour the cheese into an oven-safe bowl and rewarm as needed.
Chef 2: Pour two glasses of Pinot Noir.
Serve the fondue with baguette, roasted potatoes, apple and pear slices, cornichons, and dijon.