Sweet potato sage pasta with chicken
A handful of fresh ingredients make a sweet/savory pasta dish that’s weeknight quick.
With holiday excesses behind us, it’s good to get back to quick, simple, everyday cooking. This dish is one of my favorite examples of that kind of cooking, in that involves fresh ingredients, using up leftovers and unexpected synapses firing.Skip to next paragraph
Terry Boyd is the author of Blue Kitchen, a Chicago-based food blog for home cooks. His simple, eclectic cooking focuses on fresh ingredients, big flavors and a cheerful willingness to borrow ideas and techniques from all over the world. A frequent contributor to the Chicago Sun-Times, his recipes have also appeared on the Bon Appétit and Saveur websites.
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One thing I’ve noticed in writing about food for the past five years or so is that it makes me think about food, a lot. Sometimes it seems that everything I see or read or hear or smell or taste has the potential to inspire some cooking idea. A couple of years ago, I wrote about a photo I came across somewhere. It wasn’t a food photo, but rather a shot of a small village clinging to a seaside cliff. Maybe it was somewhere on the Mediterranean, maybe not. The buildings were impossibly brightly colored, the streets impossibly narrow and steep. The very first thing I thought when I saw the picture was, “I wonder what you would find to eat in this place.”
The origin of the pasta dish above was two sentences in a restaurant review in the Chicago Reader: “The cappellacci is particularly recommended. Often referred to as ‘pope’s’ or ‘brigand’s’ hats, these tender pillows are stuffed with sweet squash and Parmigiano, sauteed in sage and brown butter, and sprinkled with crumbled amaretti, the almond cookies that transport this sumptuous northern recipe into the region of dessert.”
The two things that leapt out at me from this passage (and as a writer and lover of long sentences, I bow to Mike Sula for his 43-word second sentence here) were sweet squash and sage. I didn’t have a squash on hand, but there was a sweet potato in the fridge not getting any younger. And the sage plant that had summered in a pot in our yard was giving up the ghost in our living room, less than happy with our bay window. I could immediately taste its salvaged leaves with the sweet potato.
I had neither the patience to make little pasta pillows nor a hankering for something from the “region of dessert.” But pasta sounded like a good idea. Adding onion and garlic to the mix would take the sweet potato in a savory direction. And a little chicken would make it a meal. If you’d like to make a vegetarian version, just skip the chicken and add a generous amount of freshly grated Parmesan cheese at the end.
Speeding up sweet potatoes. Mark Bittman is a genius. Let me just say that right here. Almost four years ago, he wrote a piece about really cooking with a microwave. Turns out it’s a great way to cook lots of vegetables – they retain more color, more flavor and, according to some studies, more vitamins. The microwave is also a great tool for parboiling root vegetables. I first used this technique when I made Roast Chicken with Root Vegetables. Here, two minutes or so in the microwave softens the sweet potatoes for sautéing.