Monday, November 26, 2012

Explore Your Roots: Sweet Potato Pie with Gingerbread Crust and Bourbon Whipped Cream

I can't exactly label my favorite food season. I enjoy them all for various reasons. At the end of summer, even though I know that tomato season is ending, I look forward to winter squash, dark leafy greens, and root vegetables. Although many of these are available year-round, they are abundant and particularly comforting during the cooler months of the fall and winter. I am a vegetable fiend and particularly enjoy finding new ways to prepare them in side dishes and incorporating them into main dishes. Although a balanced diet may be a cookie in each hand, a more balanced diet includes a healthy dose of veggies.

I recently received a copy of Roots, a book set up like an encyclopedia of root vegetables. It has chapters in alphabetical order with a gorgeous photograph showcasing each root vegetable, followed by the scientific and common names for the root, history and lore, varieties, nutrition, availability and selection, storage, and basic use and preparation. It literally gives you all the information you could possibly want to know about any given root (with the exception of the exact places where you might find it in your particular town and city). These introductions are then followed by a selection of recipes.

Whole Wheat Linguine with Carrot Top Pesto and Sauteed Cremini Mushrooms

Some of these roots may be harder to find. I've personally never met a Burdock Root, a Crosne, or a Malanga, among others. Most of the roots are fairly commonplace, however, and some of the somewhat uncommon ones I have personally seen at Whole Foods (Fresh Horseradish and Jerusalem Artichokes, for example). I may not be able to create every dish in this book because of root unavailability, but honestly, I can and likely would try many of the recipes in the chapters that are more approachable for regular consumers.

Homemade Ginger Ale

Even roots like radishes, turnips, and beets (which are common even in supermarkets and not necessarily at farmers' markets) offer recipes that are appealing to try. And of course, recipes aside, the book itself is invaluable for its useful information on all the roots, from selection to storing and beyond.

My only complaint is the minimal amount of photographs. Considering the book features 29 major roots and over 225 recipes in over 400 pages, I know the material shared is more important than the photos in this case. There are a handful of really beautiful pictures, but the pages are filled more vitally with words. I can't imagine how long this book would be if it were filled with pictures too. The page count and price would probably rise exponentially. I forgive them.

Chicken Fricassee with Parsley Roots and Chanterelle Mushrooms

So far, I have made two recipes from this book. They utilize more common ingredients, but I have many recipes bookmarked including some for the harder-to-find roots. I have my eyes peeled for Parsley Root because I'm just itching to try the Chicken Fricassee with Parsley Roots and Chanterelle Mushrooms. I'm also anxious to try Homemade Ginger Ale, and Golden Beet Risotto with Crumbled Ricotta Salata and Sautéed Beet Greens, among others.

The first recipe I tried was Carrot Top Pesto. Although I've cooked beet greens before, I never thought to utilize carrot tops, so this really seemed like a great way to cook the entire vegetable from top to bottom. I tweaked the recipe a touch, cut it in half based on how much carrot top I had, replaced pine nuts with walnuts and increased the amount of oil a tad to help it blend more smoothly in my teeny tiny 1 1/2-cup food processor (it wouldn't mix properly in anything bigger). I decided to toss the pesto (thinned out with a bit of pasta water) with some whole-wheat linguine and sautéed cremini mushrooms to instill some earthiness. The dish was fabulous, a great wintertime pesto option that I will happily recreate any time basil and other summer herbs are out of season.

I also couldn't wait to try the Sweet Potato Pie with Gingerbread Crust and Bourbon Whipped Cream. It graced our Thanksgiving table. Pumpkin pie was definitely not missed with this on the menu. The filling was lightly sweetened and spiced, perfectly creamy and not overly heavy. The crust was incredibly simple, yet packed so much flavor and innovation into this pie. Simply gingersnap crumbs and butter took the concept of a graham cracker crust to another level that paired so perfectly with the sweet potato filling.

A gently spiked bourbon whipped cream was literally the icing on the cake, offering a touch of naughty with a creamy balance to the sweet potato canvas. It was love in its most delicious form. The entire Thanksgiving table swooned over this pie. I plan to make this again in the coming weeks because once is never enough, just you wait and see.

Roots is a beautiful and important work in the cookbook world. If you love root vegetables, want to learn more about them, try new recipes for your favorites, or find some new root vegetables to explore, this book is definitely for you! Even if you never plan to seek out some of the less common roots in this book, I still think this is a great resource, not only for more common roots, but also for broadening your horizons on lesser known ones, even if you never plan to cook them. I'm grateful for the knowledge and I am thankful for this book. It definitely made my Thanksgiving even more delicious!

Sweet Potato Pie with Gingerbread Crust and Bourbon Whipped Cream
Makes 1 (9-inch) pie
(Adapted from Roots)

Gingerbread Crust:
1/2 cup (4 oz) unsalted butter, melted
2 cups gingersnap crumbs (from half a 1 pound box)

1 3/4 lb dark orange-fleshed sweet potatoes (2 large or 3 medium)
2 T. unsalted butter, at room temperature, cut into small cubes
3/4 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 cup unsweetened coconut milk
1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
2 T. bourbon whiskey
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 tsp. kosher or fine sea salt

Bourbon Whipped Cream:
1 cup heavy whipping cream
2 T. confectioners' sugar
1 T. bourbon whiskey

Position one rack in the center and a second in the lower third of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees F. Line a large rimmed baking sheet with parchment or aluminum foil.

To make the crust, butter a 9-inch deep-dish glass pie plate with 1 tablespoon of the melted butter. In a medium bowl, combine the gingersnap crumbs and the remaining butter and toss and stir until the crumbs are evenly moistened. Press the crumb mixture evenly in the bottom and up the sides of the pie plate (using the bottom of a small measuring cup helps make it flat and even). Bake the crust on the lower third of the oven until crisp at the edges and lightly colored, 10 to 12 minutes. It will firm up more as it cools. Let cool completely on a rack.

To make the filling, pierce each sweet potato several times with a fork and place on the prepared baking sheet. Bake until the potatoes are very tender when pierced with a fork, 1 to 1 1/2 hours, depending on the size of the potatoes. Remove from the oven, cut each potato in half lengthwise and cool for 10 minutes.

Peel the potatoes and place the flesh into a large bowl, discarding the skins. Use a potato masher to mash the potatoes with the butter. Add the brown sugar and continue to mash. The potatoes should be warm enough to melt the butter and dissolve most of the brown sugar. Using a wooden spoon, stir in the eggs. Add the coconut milk, cream, bourbon, vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt and stir until the mixture is smooth and light.

Gently pour the filling into the cooled crust. Place the pie in the center of the oven and bake until the sides are slightly puffed, about 45 minutes. The center of the filling will still be a bit soft and will even jiggle a little when you shake the pie plate gently. Turn off the oven, set the oven door ajar, and leave the pie in the oven, undisturbed, for another 10 minutes. Transfer the pie to a wire rack and cool completely.

To make the whipped cream, in a medium bowl or in the bowl of a stand mixer, combine the cream, confectioners' sugar and bourbon. Using a whisk, handheld mixer, or stand mixer, whip the cream until medium peaks form. Use immediately or cover and refrigerate for up to 4 hours.

Cut the pie into wedges with a warm, wet knife, wiping the knife clean after every cut. Top with the whipped cream and serve (alternatively, use some of the whipped cream to decorate the pie and serve the remainder at the table).

*Disclaimer* I received no compensation to write this review other than a free copy of the book. My opinions are always my own.


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