As the summer and fall faded (along with their multitude of squash varieties, heirloom tomatoes, succulent melons, and juicy red strawberries), I noticed I was becoming less enticed by the idea of cooking seasonally. In almost all seasons but winter, I love walking around the greenmarket, plunking whatever looks good into my shopping bag, and cooking with what’s in season. When winter’s chill sets in, all I want to do is escape the cold and hibernate in my warm apartment with my favorite comfort foods. Mac-and-cheese, saucy pastas, Chinese takeout—you name it. With P. Allen Smith’s Seasonal Recipes from the Garden (Clarkson Potter) as my inspiration, I decided to challenge myself to cook an “in season” wintertime dinner.
Allen’s book is broken down into four sections (one for each season), and each section has thirty delicious recipes for starters, salads and soups, entrées, and desserts. His stories and memories that accompany each recipe are personal, genuine, and inspiring. As I paged through the fall and winter chapters, it didn’t take long for me to come up with a dinner menu.
I started with the Apple and Carrot Salad, which I was able to make the day before. With only a couple pantry staples, carrots, and apples, this recipe was quick, easy, and budget friendly.
My side dish for the evening was the Sweet Potato Gratin, which, I must say, was the big hit with my dinner companions. Layers of thinly sliced sweet potatoes are topped with an indulgent mixture of butter, cheese, cream, and breadcrumbs, and then baked until perfectly crispy.
Finally, the entrée I selected was something that I knew I couldn’t turn down: Blackberry Pork Chops. Thick, center-cut pork chops are topped with a blackberry gastrique that is much easier to make than it sounds.
The blackberries are heated with brown sugar, balsamic vinegar, and salt and pepper, and then this irresistible mixture is poured over the piping-hot pork chops.
Needless to say, there were no leftovers in my kitchen the next morning.
Sweet Potato Gratin
Serves 6 to 8
• 4 tablespoons (½ stick) butter
• 4 garlic cloves, minced
• 2 tablespoons all purpose flour
• 1 ½ cups heavy cream
• 4 sweet potatoes (about 2 ¼ pounds total), peeled and cut into ¼-inch-thick rounds
• Salt and freshly ground black pepper
• ½ cup fine fresh breadcrumbs
• ½ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Preheat the oven to 325°F. Generously butter a 1 ½-inch-deep gratin dish, and set it aside.
Melt 2 tablespoons of the butter in a small skillet over low heat. Add the garlic and cook, stirring, until it is softened, 3 to 4 minutes. Then add the flour and cook, stirring, for 3 minutes. Stir in the cream and bring the mixture to a simmer, stirring occasionally; remove from the heat.
Arrange the potatoes in layers in the gratin dish, seasoning them with salt and pepper to taste. Pour the cream mixture over the potatoes, and bake for 1 hour, or until they are tender. Remove the dish from the oven.
Melt the remaining 2 tablespoons butter, and mix it with the breadcrumbs and cheese. Sprinkle the mixture evenly over the potatoes, and return the dish to the oven. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the top is golden brown. Serve while hot.
View all of the photos from my P. Allen Smith meal below.