Savory ideas for fall – Tasty recipes for the autumn table

October is one of our favorite months here in South Louisiana. The weather is finally getting cool. The leaves are beginning to change, and folks are decorating their houses with the beautiful pumpkins and sugarcane stalks so plentiful at places like the Red Stick Farmers Market and South Side Produce.

This time of year is also sweet potato season, and here in Louisiana we have some of the best in the world. That’s why this month we have a menu that showcases the rich flavor and health benefits of this versatile, homegrown spud, which is high in vitamins A and C, rich in potassium and magnesium and twice as high in fiber content as plain old white potatoes.

Now, we realize that when people down here say “sweet potatoes,” they typically envision the rich decadent sweet potato casseroles traditionally served around holiday tables. You know the ones—bubbly bake pans filled with butter and brown sugar and topped with marshmallows. While those may satisfy a certain palate, we would argue that sweet potatoes are far more delicious when prepared in a savory way. The natural sweetness of the vegetable lends itself beautifully to spices like curry and cumin and complements many other ingredients and dishes.

For this month’s menu, Tracey has come up with a recipe for a savory Roasted Sweet Potato Bisque that is hearty and delicious. It has hints of curry and cumin and is topped with smoky tasso sausage. It is a great way to start off a meal but is also hearty enough to serve as a main course.

The great thing about this bisque is that, while it is rich and filling, it’s not made with cream—or any high-fat ingredients, for that matter. The sweet potatoes are roasted with spices in olive oil then pureed, for a creamy texture that suggests the presence of calories and fat that aren’t there. It’s one of our favorites and is perfect to serve at a fall luncheon or dinner party.

To accompany the bisque, Tracey suggests a fresh Pear Salad with Gorgonzola, as pears are one of the best seasonal fruits this time of year. There are many different varieties, each delicious in its own way, so try them all and see which you like best.

She also created a crunchy Cornbread Biscotti, which sounds quite impressive but is actually easy to prepare. It’s a delightful twist on the traditional cornbread and really requires just an extra stint in the oven after it has already been baked, cooled and sliced. Served alongside the bisque, it’s a perfect fall meal for family and friends.

Serves 6

4 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks (should yield five to six cups)
3 Tbsp olive oil
2 tsp. salt
Ľ tsp. curry powder
Ľ tsp. cumin
Ľ tsp. fresh ground black pepper
1 cup diced tasso (you can substitute turkey tasso to save on calories)
˝ cup chopped onion
Ľ tsp. fresh thyme
1 clove minced garlic
˝ cup sherry
4 cups low sodium chicken broth
1 cup half-and-half
1 8-oz. container of sour cream

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees and bring a large pot of water to a boil.
2. Add one of the teaspoons of salt to the water and add the peeled and cut sweet potatoes.
3. Blanch the sweet potatoes for three to four minutes, or just until they are starting to become tender.
4. Drain the potatoes well and toss them with two tablespoons of the olive oil.
5. Toss the sweet potatoes with the remaining salt, curry powder, cumin and pepper and place them in a single layer on a baking sheet.
6. Roast the sweet potatoes for 20 to 25 minutes or until they are golden and tender.
7. While the sweet potatoes are roasting, heat the remaining tablespoon of olive oil in a six- to eight-quart pot. Add in the tasso and sauté it over medium-high heat for three to five minutes.
8. Using a slotted spoon, remove the tasso, drain it on paper towels and set it aside.
9. Add the chopped onions and fresh thyme to the pot and sauté them until they become soft—another three to four minutes.
10. Stir in the garlic then remove the pot from heat. Pour in the sherry and deglaze the pan. Return the pot to the stove and add the chicken broth. Reduce the heat to medium-high and allow the mixture to come up to a simmer.
11. Add the roasted potatoes, turn the heat off and allow the mixture to cool a bit.
12. Working in batches, ladle the sweet potato mixture into a food processor or blender and pulse until the mixture is smooth.
13. Pour the bisque back into the pot and place it on the stove over low heat. Pour in the half-and-half and allow the bisque to heat through. Do not let it come up to a boil, as the half-and-half may separate. Adjust the seasonings if needed and serve the bisque warm, topped with some of the crispy tasso and a dollop of sour cream if desired.

Yields 20-24 pieces

1 cup self-rising flour
1 cup yellow cornmeal
˝ tsp. salt
Ľ tsp. fresh ground black pepper
2 Tbsp. sugar
Ľ cup (˝ stick) cold butter cut into pieces
Ľ cup whole or low-fat milk
2 Tbsp. honey
2 eggs

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a large mixing bowl combine the flour, cornmeal, salt, pepper and sugar until well blended.
2. Using a pastry cutter or a fork, cut the cold butter into the dry ingredients until the mixture resembles wet sand.
3. In a small bowl, whisk together the milk, honey and eggs. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry and combine to form dough.
4. Line a baking sheet with parchment and pour the dough onto it.
5. Lightly grease your hands and form a 12-by-4-inch rectangular loaf out of the dough. Bake in the preheated oven for 15 to 20 minutes or until lightly golden and hard. Remove from the oven and allow the loaf to cool 10 minutes.
6. Reduce the oven temperature to 325 degrees. Gently remove the loaf and place it onto a cutting board.
7. Reline the baking sheet with a new sheet of parchment and, using a serrated knife, slice the loaf diagonally into half-inch slices.
8. Place the slices onto the baking sheet cut side down and bake 10 to 15 minutes. Turn the biscotti over and continue to bake for an additional 10 minutes or until golden. Cool on a baking rack and store in an airtight container for three to four days.

Serves 6

1 tsp. honey Dijon mustard
Ľ cup pear-infused balsamic vinegar or white balsamic vinegar
1/3 cup grapeseed oil
Salt and pepper to taste
3 firm but ripe pears
1 bag spring green mix
4 oz. Gorgonzola, sliced
˝ cup pecan halves or pieces, toasted

1. In a medium-size mixing bowl, whisk together the honey mustard and vinegar.
2. Slowly drizzle in the grapeseed oil and season with salt and pepper.
3. Cut and core the pears and julienne them or cut them into matchstick pieces.
4. Place the cut pears into the vinaigrette and toss to coat. Set aside.
5. Place the greens on a large platter and arrange the marinated pears on top.
6. Place slices of the Gorgonzola around the salad and sprinkle it with the toasted pecans.