It’s been one crazy week, hasn’t it?!! So many highs and lows! Can’t jump to the food without acknowledging yet another awful shooting…there are no words. My heart goes out to the victims and their families. When will it all stop?!!
No elegant segue here folks, but since I’m here to cook and talk, that’s what I’m gonna do. Today’s Famous Friday honoree, Virginia Willis, is no stranger to these pages. I’ve featured her terrific Coca-Cola Glazed Wings, this Sweet and Spicy Barbecue Sauce, One-Pan Chicken with Tomatoes and Red Wine Vinegar, Skillet Blackberry Cobbler and most recently this Autumn Pilaf. I can honestly say that I’ve never made anything from any of her cookbooks that hasn’t been downright delicious! And her latest, Secrets of the Southern Table is another winner! It’s a wonderful compilation of stories and time-honored Southern recipes, like this Savory Sweet Potato and Greens Gratin. If you’re looking for a new side to serve this Thanksgiving I guarantee that this gratin will be a huge hit!!
One thing Virginia tries to do (and succeeds) in this new cookbook, is to show how much southern cooking varies from region to region. Even if you know only the teensiest bit about southern cooking styles, you probably know that the cuisine of North Carolina is nothing like that of New Orleans. Think BBQ vs. Cajun—see what I mean? These regional differences make for an eclectic variety of recipes in the book, like Nashville Hot Grilled Chicken (made this and will share soon—we all loved it!), Brussels Sprouts and Benne Seed Coleslaw (doesn’t that sound good?) Apple Cheddar Pancakes, Asian Cajun BBQ Shrimp, Cathead Biscuits and so much more. If you’re looking to incorporate more classic, down-home and unpretentious Southern cooking into your repertoire, this book will be your new best friend.
So let’s get on to this gratin. Don’t you like the sound of that word, gratin? Conjures up all sorts of crunchy topped casserole deliciousness for me. Though a gratin is French in origin, this one has a decidedly southern twist, mostly due to the collard greens. Do you cook with collard greens a lot? I’m embarrassed to admit that I think this may be my very first time!! Yikes! But I know it won’t be my last! I love their slight bitterness and earthiness.
In contrast the sweet potatoes perfectly balance them out—even down to their color!
One thing that is different from other gratins I’ve made before, is that for this one, you make a sort of roux that you pour over the whole shebang before it bakes. You get creaminess that way without adding any sort of cream or milk and that keeps the dish lighter than usual, making it the perfect side for a big meal!
And topping it all, is an irresistible and simple mix of fresh breadcrumbs and parmesan that bakes up golden and crispy. Yum!
Best of all, is that you can definitely make this a day ahead and have it all ready to pop in the oven—or assign it to one of your guests to bring—even easier!!
So, pick up a copy of Secrets of the Southern Table for yourself or that favorite cook in your life (great holiday gift!) and have a yummy, happy and safe weekend. I’ll be back next week with more holiday fare as we get ever closer to the BIG DAY!!
Secrets of the Southern Table’s Savory Sweet Potato and Greens Gratin-Famous Fridays
Makes 8-10 servings
Prep Time: 25 minutes; Bake Time: About 1 hour
3 tablespoons olive oil, divided, plus a bit more to grease the dish
One 16-ounce bag of chopped collard greens or 1 1/2 pound bunch, stems removed and leaves coarsely chopped
6 garlic cloves, minced
Kosher salt and black pepper for seasoning
2 tablespoons flour
1 1/2 cups low-sodium chicken stock
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
About 3 pounds sweet potatoes, peeled and thinly sliced
3 tablespoons fresh breadcrumbs (you can use dried ones but it’s so much better with fresh—just whiz bread in a food processor until it turns into breadcrumbs)
2/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
Preheat oven to 400ºF. Pour a little olive oil into a large baking dish and smush it around.
Bring a large pot of salted water to boil. Add the collard greens and cook for 3-5 minutes, until brightly green. Drain in a colander, run with cold water and when cool enough to handle, squeeze out as much water as possible. Set aside.
Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the greens and cook for a minute or two. Then add the garlic and stir well and often for another minute or two—you don’t want the garlic to burn but you do want the greens to wilt a bit. Season with a pinch or two of salt and pepper and transfer to a bowl. Wipe out the pan.
Turn the heat to low and add the remaining 2 tablespoons oil. When oil is shimmering, add the flour and cook, stirring constantly, for about 1 minute, until the mixture is foaming. Using a whisk, add in the stock and stir constantly until mixture is thickened, 2-3 minutes. Add the thyme. Stir well and taste. Season with additional salt and pepper and remove from the heat.
Place half of the sweet potato slices in the prepared baking dish and sprinkle a little salt and pepper over them. Top with the greens and spread out evenly. Then top with the remaining potatoes. Pour the flour mixture over the top evenly to coat the pieces. Cover with aluminum foil and bake for about 45 minutes, until the potatoes are soft when pierced with a knife.
While the casserole is baking, combine the breadcrumbs and Parmesan in a small bowl and season with a pinch of salt and pepper. When potatoes are tender, turn the oven down to 375ºF and remove casserole from oven. Discard foil and sprinkle the breadcrumb mixture evenly across the top. Dot with the butter and return to the oven for another 15-20 minutes until the top is golden brown.
I’m sure you could make this the day before, bring it room temperature and then reheat before serving but you could also assemble it all a day ahead and cover it with foil before any of the baking and chill. Then bring it room temperature and proceed with the rest of the cooking process.
Note: Recipe adapted from Secrets of the Southern Table by Virginia Willis. I cut the nutmeg and allspice and replaced the thyme leaves with dried thyme. Also left off the paprika from the topping.