Thursday, July 22, 2010

roasted sweet potato sandwich on homemade focaccia

This past spring Dennis and I traveled to Sedona, Arizona, where we were very graciously hosted by my friend, Meredith. Sedona itself is amazingly beautiful. Its distinctly southwestern architecture is so unobtrusive, it seems to disappear into the landscape, and the dramatic backdrop of peculiar, bold-colored rock formations, dotted with rich green pines, junipers, cacti and succulents, all set against an impossibly blue Arizona sky, create an idyllic setting for a weekend getaway. We will definitely be going back.

We were fortunate to have Meredith's insider viewpoint on what is, understandably, a heavily touristed town. Following a Saturday morning hike, Meredith took us to lunch at a beautiful little cafe called Wildflower Bread Company. It was there that I had one of the most delicious sandwiches I have ever eaten, a menu item they call "Roasted Sweet Potato," featuring, as you might expect, sweet potato, as well as fresh mozzarella, fig confit, tomato, arugula, marinated fennel and balsamic vinaigrette on herb focaccia. I insisted we return the next day so that I could enjoy it one more time before we headed back to Las Vegas, and as I finished my last bite I became determined to try to reproduce this fabulous combination of flavors at home. I'm proud to announce that Katherine and I did manage to create a respectable version of our own and we're very excited to share it with you.

The first task at hand was to bake our own focaccia. We used a recipe from the Food Network site, with a few minor adjustments. Instead of 2 tsp. of rapid-rise yeast, we used 3 tsp. of active dry yeast (and allowed the yeast to stand in warm water for a longer period of 10 minutes). We replaced the standard sugar with turbinado, and changed the flour quantities to 2 c. all purpose flour and 1 1/2 c. whole wheat flour. Of course, if you're short on time, any nice store-bought artisan bread will do.

The rest was relatively easy. I cut a sweet potato lengthwise into half-inch-thick slices, lined a baking pan with aluminum foil, laid the slices out in a single layer, brushed them with olive oil and sprinkled them with sea salt, then roasted them in the oven at 425 degrees, flipping them once part way through, until they began to brown and the flesh was soft. In the meantime, Katherine was busy caramelizing some onions, a process she will describe for you below.

Once all the ingredients were prepared we assembled the sandwich, starting with a layer of royal fig fruit spread I found at Wholefoods, followed by a slice of roasted potato, a layer of fresh mozzarella, then arugula tossed with a balsamic vinaigrette dressing, and finally a generous helping of caramelized onions. I also recommend spreading the top slice of bread with more balsamic vinaigrette to intensify the balsamic flavor, if you're a fan like we are.

Katherine, about to enjoy the fruits of our efforts

Katherine's Note: I was in heaven to make these sandwiches with Stefanie. And I loved making foccacia from scratch, enough to make me wonder why I don't do this every day. It is such a decadent kind of bread to bake, with the rich aromas and flavors from the olive oil and rosemary.

The biggest secret about making great caramelized onions is patience. It takes a long time compared to other kitchen tasks for the onions to cook down. I usually use one large or two medium sized onions. I cut these in half and slice them. Then I add a couple of tablespoons of oil to a skillet set to medium heat, add the onions, and cook them until they start to brown, approximately 15 minutes. It is important to stir frequently. The final touch for me is to throw in a tablespoon of balsamic vinegar, and a bit of sugar. I think I used roughly a 1/2 tbsp of Rapidura. Then I let this cook for another few minutes until the onions are nicely glazed.

A former chef I know once told me he likes to make a batch of caramelized onions regularly to keep in the fridge to serve along with all kinds of dishes, and it makes sense to me.

I want to lastly send some gratitude out to my friend Ayla, who I just realized takes me to a different location of Wildflower Bread Co. when I visit her in Tempe, AZ, and we pair it with visiting the most wonderful bookstore, Changing Hands, next door.