Twice-Baked Sweet Potatoes with Leeks and Sausage

Fat potatoes for Fat Tuesday!

I don’t know how I originally overlooked this recipe back in the fall, but I was very excited to try it this week, as it contains all my favorites in one neat little package. Sausage? Check. Leeks? Check. Sour cream? Check. Sweet potatoes? Check. Fancy cheese? Check.

Depending upon your portion size and your appetite, this works equally well as a main dish or a side dish. It feels like a very strong side dish, so I would pair it with something on the plainer side like roasted chicken or broiled fish.

Twice-Baked Sweet Potatoes with Leeks and Sausage by Martha Holmberg, Fine Cooking, October 2011 (printable recipe here)

Ingredients

4 small sweet potatoes (about 8 oz. each)
1 Tbs. olive oil
1/2 lb. bulk sweet Italian sausage (or link sausage, casings removed)
1 Tbs. unsalted butter
1 lb. leeks, white and light-green parts only, quartered lengthwise and thinly sliced (about 2 cups)
1 tsp. chopped fresh sage
1/4 tsp. chopped fresh thyme
Kosher salt
1/2 cup sour cream
1/4 cup grated Gruyère

Directions:

Position a rack in the center of the oven and heat the oven to 375°F. Line a heavy-duty rimmed baking sheet with parchment or foil.

Poke the sweet potatoes a few times with the tip of a knife and arrange them on the baking sheet. Bake until completely tender when pierced in the fattest part with a skewer, 35 to 60 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat the oil in a 10-inch skillet over medium-high heat. Add the sausage, reduce the heat to medium, and cook, breaking it into small bits with the edge of a slotted spoon, until no longer pink, 5 to 6 minutes. Transfer to a plate and set aside.

Pour off all but 1 Tbs. of the fat and add the butter. When it melts, add the leeks, sage, thyme, and 1-1/2 tsp. salt. Cook, stirring stirring, until the mixture just starts to sizzle. Reduce the heat to low and cook, stirring frequently, until the leeks are very soft and starting to turn golden, 10 to 15 minutes.

When the sweet potatoes are cool enough to handle, carefully cut them in half lengthwise and gently scoop the flesh into a medium bowl, leaving about 1/8 inch of flesh in the shells. Mash the scooped flesh with a fork or potato masher until smooth. Stir in the sour cream and 1 tsp. salt. Fold the sausage and leeks into the mashed sweet potato and season to taste with salt.

Position a rack 6 inches from the broiler element and heat the broiler on high. Mound the filling into the potato skins and top with the cheese. Put the potatoes in a 9×13-inch baking dish and broil until the cheese is golden, about 4 minutes. Serve immediately.

Ready to go in the oven.

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Julie’s Sausage Strata

Have you ever known someone for just a brief time, yet their impact on your life remains constant? I first met my friend Julie when I starting working for discount broker Brown & Company in Philadelphia. I had left the cushy mahogany row of Janney Montgomery Scott for a gritty, mostly male trade desk, and aside from my boss, Julie was the only other female in the room. In typical Dawn fashion, I just assumed we would be friends, because why not?

Julie was a tough nut to crack. Quite frankly, she scared me a little. She probably made me cry once or twice, too, during the early weeks. And I’m sure I was a tad bit annoying to her, if for no other reason than our circumstances. I was just about to get married, and she had just gone through a devastating divorce. I am sure my prissy, wide eyed enthusiasm got on her nerves, as well as some unintentional insensitivity on my part.

I didn’t go away quietly. Typically, I don’t bother with people if I don’t feel like they’re worth my time or energy, but I believed that Julie was worth it. I knew that sooner or later she would grow to like me, and I was determined to wear her down with my charm. It turned out to be our mutual love of animals which finally brought us together. She adored her English Springer Spaniel Miss Fergie, for whom she would cook dinners of lamb and rice. I adored our adopted stray calico cat Lulu, of whom I treated like a child. When one pet lover finds another pet lover, bridges are created, and through those fur covered bridges eventually grew a friendship.

Julie taught me so many things that I couldn’t begin to list them all. She never intended to teach me anything, but just by being herself, I learned a lot. In many ways, she was like a big sister to me. I loved the way she dealt with our difficult customers. It’s hard to explain, but the she always managed to show them who was boss and control the situation without ever being overtly rude. Overtly is the key word in that sentence. All of our conversations were recorded and frequently we would have to go back to the tapes to verify disputed trades, and one quickly learns to keep one’s cool on a recorded line. This skill never came naturally to me in times of high pressure, so I tried to imagine how Julie would handle the situation and just imitated her.

In no particular order, here are some of the things Julie introduced to me: embossed monogrammed stationery (in white, always white), Martha Stewart before she was a household name, the city of Burlington, Vermont, Beaujolais Nouveau, Kir, quilted china storage sets, high thread count sheets, trunk sales, Grace Kelly postage stamps, Scotch (which I still can’t drink), knitting (which I still can’t do), Talbot’s boiled wool jackets, and the notion that truly wealthy people drive old and modest cars. These are things which Mayflower descendents just know.

When it came time to host my first big brunch, naturally I turned to Julie. She quickly scribbled down two recipes: Amy David’s Sausage Strata and Susan Moore’s To-Die-For Potatoes. I have been making both of these dishes for eighteen years now, and I think of Julie every time I get out those recipe cards. I will share the sausage strata today, and the potatoes at a later date.

Sausage strata recipes are a dime a dozen, but this one is special to me since it came from my old friend. It’s not particularly fancy, but it’s easy, delicious, satisfying, and always a hit. Julie has also taught me to stick with the classics, especially if they work.

 

Julie’s Sausage Strata, courtesy of Amy David

6 slices white bread (crusts cut off)

1 lb. sausage meat (mild)

1 t. mustard (I always use Dijon)

1 cup grated Swiss (I am not a fan of Swiss but it works well in this recipe, trust me)

3 eggs lightly beaten

1 cup half and half

1/4 t. salt

dash of pepper

dash of nutmeg

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Grease 13 x 9 Pyrex dish

Cook sausage, drain, and toss with mustard. Arrange bread in bottom of dish. Top with sausage. Cover with remaining ingredients. Bake uncovered for 35 minutes.

 

Hurricane Irene Baked Penne with Sausage and Peppers

Severe weather makes me want to cook. Quite possibly this is due to our frequent and sometimes prolonged power outages and fear of losing my refrigerator’s contents.

Today I was determined to use the last of the tomato crop to make homemade sauce, something I have never done before with fresh tomatoes. I blanched and then peeled and then simmered and then congratulated myself on being such an outstanding homemaker, the kind who makes fresh sauce right before a hurricane. Pride is a sin; when will I learn that? I was grinding some sea salt into my sauce when — BOOM! — the top broke off and dumped about 20 tablespoons of salt into my pot. Then I cried a little.

All that work down the drain!

When faced with going out to the store for tomatoes with all of the crazies buying batteries and milk, Ed decided hunting down more tomatoes from the garden was the preferable option. These were not the grade A tomatoes I just ruined (shown below, RIP), but there were enough to make another sauce. I was kind of hoping he would have fetched me a couple jars of Barilla at this point, but sometimes you just have to start over. I put on Pandora’s French Cafe music station and got back to work.

Peeled tomatoes

Shallot, basil and garlic

This will work equally well with ziti or penne, with sausage or without. Don’t skimp on the cheese, though!

Simple Tomato Sauce

About 10 Roma or plum tomatoes, peeled and cut in half

1 T. butter

1 T. olive oil

1 shallot, chopped

1/2 teaspoon sugar

1 clove garlic, minced

1 handful of basil

1/2 cup red wine

salt to taste

In a large stockpot, heat butter and olive oil over medium heat. Add shallot to soften for about two minutes. Add tomatoes, basil, garlic, tomatoes, wine, and sugar. Cover with lid ajar and simmer over low heat, about 30 minutes. With potato masher, break up tomatoes until well combined, and continue to simmer for at least another 10 minutes. Add salt to taste, being careful not to dump the whole container into your pot.

or

2 cans premium tomato sauce

Hurricane Irene Baked Penne with Sausage and Peppers

Ingredients:

Sauce of your choice, see above

1 package ziti or penne, cooked to al dente instructions

1 pound sausage, browned (I used hot Italian poultry sausage, Irene’s favorite)

1 onion, chopped

1 large pepper, chopped

Whole milk ricotta cheese, 15 oz.

2 cups shredded whole milk mozzarella

Directions:

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Brown sausage and add to sauce, simmering on low. In same skillet, saute onion and pepper, then add to sauce. Mix in ricotta cheese until well combined. Add 1 cup mozzarella, stir well, and then add pasta. All ingredients are now in one pot, see below.

Pour into a deep casserole dish or 13 x 9 glass pan, spread evenly, and top with one cup mozzarella. Bake for 30 minutes until brown and bubbly. Serve with red wine, unless you are worried that you will be without power for several days and want to save your wine for emergencies.