Weeknight Cooking

Sweet Potatoes Anna with Prunes

November  5, 2012

Jenny is in perpetual search for easy, weeknight recipes to attempt to feed her family. When they balk, she just eats more.

Sweet Potatoes Anna

Holidays are for making memories, but the painful truth is, they are for lamenting them too. 

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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.

Sweet Potatoes Anna with Prunes by mrsp

Serves 6-10

5-6 sweet potatoes
1/2 pound butter
1 cup port
10 pitted prunes

See the full recipe (and save it and print it) here.




Photo by Sarah Shatz

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Written by: Jestei

The ratio of people to cake is too big.


Jazzball December 2, 2012
I am SO envious of you for being Norah Ephron's friend. What an incredible woman, and what a terrible loss that she is no longer with us. (Love your recipes, too.)
witloof November 26, 2012
I made this for Thanksgiving and everyone ooohed and aaaahed over it. Someone said that the prunes were "magical." I soaked them in Maker's Mark! Next time I may try using a combination of butter, grade B maple syrup, and bourbon to brush in between the layers.
phyllis November 14, 2012
I met mrsp several times. We were both true New Yorkers and spent time talking about growing up. I wish I could have been one of her closest friends, or at least find one as wonderful as her. You were very lucky Jenny. Please continue to treasure your memories. I'm going to cook Sweet Potatoes Anna once more in her honor.
Jestei November 18, 2012
thanks for this lovely message. i really hope your dish turned out well
abs8535 November 11, 2012
Nora and I were good pals at Beverly Hills High School, and several of us were so blessed to spend time with her before she died (unknowing that she was ill and grateful that she reconnected with several of us over the last few years of her life). For this reason, I loved your piece on the "Sweet Potatoes Anna with Prunes". My first experience with Nora's cooking was in high school when she got into making pies, using the Crisco pie crust recipe; the filling was usually apricot!
Jestei November 12, 2012
this makes me so happy. thanks so much for posting here.
JenniferF November 8, 2012
This is lovely. As are you and as was she. xxoo
Jestei November 12, 2012
xx oo
Lizthechef November 6, 2012
A terrific tribute. After mrsp died, I cried all the way through my dog-eared copy of "Heartburn" and marveled anew at her style and talent.
Jestei November 12, 2012
i am so glad you loved her too!
mcs3000 November 6, 2012
Beautiful piece, Jenny. How lucky you both were to have each other as friends.
Jestei November 6, 2012
thank you!
TiggyBee November 6, 2012
So Lovely...xo
Jestei November 6, 2012
nice to see you here TiggyBee. i hope you are doing well.
hardlikearmour November 5, 2012
Your Monday column typically brings a bit of needed humor to my day. Today your column really touched me. Cheers to your wonderful friendship - your friend is clearly much missed, but will always remain deeply loved and present in your heart.
Jestei November 6, 2012
thank you so much
witloof November 5, 2012
I saw mrsp at the Union Square greenmarket a couple of years ago and swooned. Being an ultra cool New Yorker, I did not say hello. No one else recognized her, as far as I could see. Now I'm really sorry I didn't tell her how much I loved her books, and everything else she did. I'm jealous that you got to know her. Thanks for posting this.
Jestei November 6, 2012
i can promise you she would have been thrilled to meet you and gracious with the exchange. i am so glad you are a fan of mrsp and thanks so much for commenting here.
witloof November 10, 2012
Thanks, Jenny. And just to let you know that we are going to make this for Thanksgiving. I think we'll try it with bourbon. {And when I recognized Amanda at the greenmarket, she was not lucky enough to be left alone by me...}
gt9 November 5, 2012
Tears...thank you.
Jestei November 6, 2012
awwwww stay warm on election day greg!
gt9 November 5, 2012
Tears...thank you.
Deborah November 5, 2012
Such a touching piece indeed. So where in the diamond district should I take my grandmother to try those blintzes?
Jestei November 5, 2012
i am so sorry i cant remember i know it by foot. some deep googling might reveal.
Deborah November 5, 2012
I'm all over the Googling--this place (http://gothamist.com/2009/12/21/diamond_dairy_classic_kosher_lunche.php) has closed, but still looking. Many thanks again!
Jestei November 6, 2012
that is the place DANG IT. you can still get other good jewish-style food from around the world in that neighborhood.
Deborah November 6, 2012
Yep, and I like to think that mrsp would approve of that Bukhari place upstairs, or my favorite weirdly good falafel joint in the West 30s.
Bevi November 5, 2012
Oh this was so touching to read. mrsp remains to this day one of my favorite writers, and her recipes in Heartburn were truly comfort food. Thanks for reminding us about the lovely Nora. You are so lucky to have been her friend. To me it feels like Nora made us all, through her writing and wisdom, her good friends.
Jestei November 6, 2012
that is so true and that is why i think people especially women loved her work. i still cook out of heartburn too!
thirschfeld November 5, 2012
I am pretty sure I have made this recipe more then any other on the site. It caught my eye because it reminded me of a potato recipe from the French Laundry, which for me, it surpassed. It is a hands down favorite of my wifes, and fast becoming one of the girls favorites too.
Jestei November 5, 2012
any special tips you have for it? so glad you like.
thirschfeld November 5, 2012
I sometimes soak the prunes in armagnac. I layer the potatoes into the cold pan as per the directions but I always brown the bottom layer on the stove top over medium heat. Then I cover the pan and slide it into the oven to bake removing the lid for the last 15 minutes. I then invert the pan/potatoes onto a serving platter so the crispy bottom is served up.
drbabs November 5, 2012
I'm having a hard time writing this note to you because, although I am not lucky enough to have counted myself among mrsp's thousands of friends, I am one of her millions of fans, and was truly saddened by her death. I have also been a major fan of her sweet potatoes, well before I knew who the author of the recipe was. So thanks for this. I always love your writing. And I'm sorry for your loss. It's so hard to lose a friend. XO
Jestei November 5, 2012
It IS very hard to lose a friend. But the thing it does is make you appreciate your other friends all the more, and to focus in on what that means. I am so glad you are among the many who loved MrsP!
Shalini November 5, 2012
It sounds like you had really enjoyable times with msrp. Lovely writing, and wonderful memories abound, how lucky.
Jestei November 5, 2012
thanks shalini! xx oo
MrsWheelbarrow November 5, 2012
Just added this to my Thanksgiving menu. Thank you for sharing these happy memories
Jestei November 5, 2012
this is a dish you would love
fiveandspice November 5, 2012
This is beautiful Jenny. A lovely tribute to a wonderful person, and a wonderful friend, it sounds like.
Jestei November 5, 2012
thank you very much. so glad you liked. hope you make the dish!