For reasons unknown, I used to hate sweet potatoes. I avoided them at all costs at the Thanksgiving table, turning my nose up at them in any way, shape or form. I had somehow convinced myself of this aversion – which, in hindsight, was completely groundless and unfounded – and would refuse to even sample the poor tubers, no matter how sweetly Mom asked. Fast forward twenty years: my, how times – and tastes – have changed.
This recipe was inspired by one I found while flipping through my November edition of Food & Wine magazine (who, by the way, should seriously consider giving me a job with outrageous perks and full benefits for all of the free press I give them…) In the magazine, chef Julie Robles of Tavern in L.A. makes this at-home version of her popular restaurant favorite by layering roasted butternut squash with a crème fraîche-laced poblano cream and crumbly farmer cheese. Sounds good, doesn’t it? Read on.
As much as I love butternut squash, I absolutely dread cutting into the dang thing. One machete, two sore thumbs, twenty minutes and several close calls later, I’m left wondering why I didn’t just pay the $7.00 a pound for the pre-cut stuff. So I switched it up; instead of the delicious-yet-burdensome butternut, I opted for the user-friendly sweet potato, which I chopped up and roasted until the chunks were soft and just starting to brown. Similar in texture and taste to butternut squash, roasted sweet potato adds just the right amount of subtle sweetness to offset the fiery poblano cream.
Back in the spring, Hubs and I planted two poblano pepper plants in the garden, which proceeded to sit idle for the remainder of the season, looking like they’d much rather be the latest addition to my compost pile than producing fruit in my garden. After numerous threats of uprooting and indignant scoffs in their general direction, I completely forgot about the plants until early November, when Hubs came in from the garden with the bottom half of his shirt bulging. “You’ll never guess what’s in here”, he mused. Lo and behold, the poblano plants had pulled out their proverbial heads and made up for lost time, producing some of the prettiest – and fieriest! – poblanos I’ve ever had. Those peppers were put to good use in my poblano cream.
So let’s discuss this poblano cream, shall we? I began by simply sautéing some onion, garlic and a few herbs together, allowing the onions to go all soft and glisteny. To that I added a generous amount of sliced grilled poblanos, which I’d earlier skinned and seeded. I took it to eleven by pouring in a generous amount of heavy cream, and adding full-fat sour cream off the heat, just for good measure. And by good measure, I mean that measuring tape around my butt. Yowza.
The dish goes together in layers, with sweet potatoes, poblano cream, ricotta (which, by the way, I smooth in the food processor with a little cream and olive oil) and Monterrey Jack nestling on top of one another. After a good half hour in the oven, the dish comes out bubbling hot and melty. The soft sweet potatoes mix and mingle with the spicy poblano cream, and the ricotta and Monterrey Jack add a creamy richness. Careful, now: a little goes a long way. Seconds should only be attempted if you’re fully prepared for a food coma.
This is the last recipe in my Thanksgiving series, and I hope the past three weeks have given you a little outside-the-box inspiration for next week’s feast. If you have any last minute questions or comments, visit my Facebook page (www.facebook.com/flyerfoodie) and we’ll chitty chat. Of the many things I’m thankful for, one is the opportunity to share my passion for food and cooking with all of you. Happy Thanksgiving, and enjoy!
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Sweet Potato Gratin with Poblano Cream
4 large poblano peppers
4 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and sliced 1/2 inch thick
1 1/2 tsp. fresh thyme, chopped
1 medium onion, thinly sliced
3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1/2 tsp. dried oregano
1/2 c. heavy cream
3/4 c. sour cream
8 oz. Monterey Jack cheese, shredded
8 oz. ricotta cheese
toasted pumpkin seeds, for serving
olive oil, salt & pepper to taste
Using your oven’s broiler or your grill, roast the poblanos over open flame, turning occasionally, until they are charred and the skin is blistered. Transfer the poblanos to a bowl, cover it tightly with plastic wrap and allow to cool. Peel, stem and seed the poblanos, and cut them into thin strips.
Preheat the oven to 400°. Drizzle the sweet potatoes liberally with olive oil, and salt and pepper. On a rimmed baking sheet, spread them in a single layer and roast for about 30 minutes, until they are tender and just beginning to brown, flipping them once. Remove them from the oven, set aside, and increase the oven temperature to 425°.
Meanwhile, in a large skillet, heat 3 tablespoons of olive oil. Add the sliced onion, thyme and oregano, and cook over medium heat until the onion has softened, about 8 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for a minute longer. Add the poblano strips and cook about 5 minutes longer. Add the heavy cream and simmer over medium-low heat until thickened, about 5 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and add the sour cream, stirring to combine. Season with salt and pepper.
In an 8×8 baking dish, spoon half of the poblano cream into the bottom of the dish. Top with half of the roasted sweet potatoes, half of the ricotta, and half of the Monterey Jack. Repeat the layers with the remaining ingredients. Bake at 425° for 30 minutes, until the gratin is golden and bubbling. Remove from the oven and allow to rest for 10 minutes. Garnish each serving with toasted pumpkin seeds, and serve immediately.
*If the above slideshow doesn’t load, you can view all the photos from this recipe on the Flyer’s Flickr page.
Laura is a regular contributor for the Fayetteville Flyer. She was born and raised in Fayetteville. She is a self-proclaimed foodie and avid cook. For more of Laura’s contributions, see her Flyer Foodie author page. For more cooking, recipes, and other food-related inspiration, visit Flyer Foodie on Facebook.