August 7, 2013 9:00:14 AM
Jan Swoope - email@example.com
When the Starkville Community Market opens bright and early on Saturday mornings, Chef Chris Pierce is usually resting up from a busy night in the commercial kitchen of Restaurant Tyler. But when the Market asked him to put on a culinary demonstration Aug. 3, Pierce was pleased to take advantage of the opportunity to get to know his new community a little better. He wanted to bring something special to share -- and he knew that Vardaman sweet potatoes were a good place to start.
"I wanted to do sweet potatoes, and I wanted to incorporate local products," said the Hattiesburg area native, who moved to Starkville about six months ago to work alongside his former University of Southern Mississippi classmate, Chef Ty Thames, executive chef at Restaurant Tyler.
Pierce, who trained at the New England Culinary Institute and later worked with celebrated chef John Besh in New Orleans, devised a recipe for sweet potato pancakes, wrapped around a luxurious cream cheese stuffing and topped with a balsamic fig sauce. The delicious dish would be at home at a brunch, or could be served as a dessert. The chef shares the recipe with Dispatch readers in today's food section.
The resurgence in recent years of farmers' markets in the Golden Triangle is providing savvy, community-minded chefs -- and local cooks, of course -- with the freshest possible source of foods. Pierce promotes getting behind local and Mississippi growers for in-season produce, which is how figs came to mind as he formulated his demo recipe.
"The topping is just something I came up with. I thought of figs and just went in there and started working with the recipe," said Pierce.
Of his pancakes, he said, "I make my pancakes really thin, almost like a crepe. You don't want them thick or you won't be able to wrap them."
The pancake recipe can be made the night before and kept in the refrigerator.
"You could even stuff them the night before and the next day just wake up and execute the fig sauce."
The sauce calls for flambeing with rum to help caramelize the outside of the figs and produce residual sugars that enhance the taste.
The rum can be omitted if desired, or replaced with an apple cider.
As Chef Pierce continues to get acquainted with Starkville and the Golden Triangle, he appreciates the small-town attributes he's seeing. Farmers' markets, for instance, are living, breathing examples of keeping it local.
"(The Market) was fun, almost like a little carnival -- everybody comes out," he observed. "And it's not just produce. It's an opportunity for people to showcase whatever they do," he added, referring to artisans, musicians and others with items like preserved food. "It's supporting your local community. I dig it; I like that attitude."
Sweet potato tips
When selecting sweet potatoes, here are a few tips from the Mississippi Sweet Potato Council to keep in mind.
Choose firm, round, well-shaped potatoes with somewhat even coloring. Handle them carefully to prevent bruising.
Store in a cool (50-60 degrees), dry, well-ventilated place. Don't refrigerate sweet potatoes unless they're already cooked. (Cold temperatures will give potatoes a hard core and cause flavor loss.)
Remember, sweet potatoes are more nutritious if cooked with the skin on. Wash and dry them thoroughly before cooking. Always use a stainless steel knife for cutting; using a carbon blade will cause sweet potatoes to darken.
STUFFED SWEET POTATO PANCAKES
2 sweet potatoes, baked and peeled
1/2 cup softened butter
1/3 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 cup buttermilk
Pinch of kosher salt
Combine the remaining ingredients and whisk until smooth.
For cream cheese stuffing:
1 pound cream cheese, softened at room temperature
2/3 cup candied pecans
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1/2 cup molasses
1 teaspoon vanilla
For balsamic fig sauce:
1 tablespoon butter
1 dozen figs, cut in half lengthwise
1/4 cup rum
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1/2 teaspoon orange zest
2 medium sized sage leaves finely chopped
3 tablespoons heavy cream
When fire extinguishes, add the balsamic vinegar, orange zest, sage leaves and cream. Reduce until it gets to desired consistency and spoon over stuffed pancakes. You can garnish with a balsamic reduction, powdered sugar or sage chiffonade (chiffonade is the technique of cutting herbs or leafy green vegetables into long, thin strips).
(Source: Chef Chris Pierce, Starkville)
Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.