Jenny is in perpetual search for easy, weeknight recipes to attempt to feed her family. When they balk, she just eats more.
Holidays are for making memories, but the painful truth is, they are for lamenting them too.
For many years, I was among the thousands who counted mrsp (a.k.a Nora Ephron) among her friends, and those were lucky years. We talked about many things -- what would become of the Dodgers after the team’s owners divorced; why was it that the parking meter on little Santa Monica seemed rigged to expire early; was it true that (elected official/movie star/museum president) was sleeping with (art director/handyman/elected official) and did that matter? But mostly, we talked about food.
I introduced mrsp to the little restaurant inside a store in the diamond district in Manhattan that made excellent blintzes and serves Ritz-style crackers to its customers on coffee filters. She told me where to buy coffee cake. Our two favorite Los Angeles haunts were Clementine, where we marveled at the sloppy joe and always shared a chocolate pudding (and where we got the occasional parking ticket thanks to the trickster meter) and Lucques, where we would eat fish and drink white wine, unless she pulled a Coke Zero from her purse and demanded a glass of ice, because that did sometimes happen.
But mrsp, who died earlier this year, also loved to cook, and exchanging recipes, talking through failed cakes and waiting for ice cream to set while we sat by her pool taking in the midafternoon sun were among our other favorite activities. As is the case with so many mothers, aunts and friends, I called mrsp each year at Thanksgiving to find out what she was making and at some point she turned me on to Sweet Potatoes Anna with Prunes.
I was always sort of surprised that she liked this recipe, as it is just a tad complicated and fussy for someone partial to Stove Top stuffing as she was. But the first time I made this, I understood why this dish was worth the effort, and you will too.
Soak your prunes while you clarify your butter, just to save some time. You definitely will want to use your food processor or mandolin slicer to get your potatoes cut up, lest you begin to feel hostile.
From here you are essentially layering this up in a buttery, slightly boozy potato cake of sorts, which is made pleasantly sticky by the prunes. Watch for burning. There is a crispness here that evokes au gratin, a sweetness that calls to mind dessert and of course the heft of the potato that says “Hello I am a side dish!”
Thanksgiving guests are sure to welcome this alternative to the usual sweet potato offerings, and if they don’t, that’s all the more for you for breakfast. I can’t wait to make mine. I just so wish I could call mrsp to tell her how it turned out.
5-6 sweet potatoes
1/2 pound butter
1 cup port
10 pitted prunes
Photo by Sarah Shatz