Sorghum & Salt transforms sweet potatoes into a savory vegetarian “steak” as a main dish | Photo by Rūta Smith

Sweet and seasonal

F all and winter in Charleston usher in new, exciting seasonal produce. Hearty vegetables like butternut squash, brussels sprouts and sweet potatoes come to mind. During the holidays, sweet potatoes usually play a supporting role as a side dish whether in a casserole or just mashed in a bowl, but a few Charleston chefs are making this ingredient the star of the dish.

Sweet potato agnolotti
Church & Union

This New American restaurant is skilled at transforming dishes everyone knows and loves into something unique. Church & Union’s sweet potato agnolotti, a filled pasta from Italy’s Piedmont region, is a prime example.

“Doing an Italian take on an American fall favorite is exactly what we do,” said Adam Hodgson, chef-partner of 5th Street Group, which manages Church & Union. “Agnolotti normally has some sort of meaty filling, but instead, we are pairing it with fall flavors like sweet potatoes, mushrooms and chestnuts.”

Church & Union makes its agnolotti fresh daily, including the dough, filling and accoutrements.

A simple roasted sweet potato puree mixed with cream and salt is the base.

“Agnolotti makes chefs happy because they’re these soft pillows of excellence and on top of that they’re fairly easy to make in a high-volume environment like Church & Union,” Hodgson said.

Church & Union incorporates sweet potato into agnolotti | Photos by Rūta Smith

Bloomed dried black cherries, mushrooms and leeks fried in butter are tossed with the filled pasta after boiling. The dish is served over pistachio basil pesto and garnished with brown butter, pickled fennel, toasted bread crumbs and micro herbs.

“The brown butter and fall ingredients make you feel warm, and then we cut it with the pickled fennel to balance it out,” Hodgson said.

Church & Union sources the sweet potatoes (and all of its produce) from local purveyors like GrowFood Carolina and Limehouse Produce. This dish is such a cool weather favorite that it will likely stay on the menu through February.

Sweet potato biscuits
Sixty Bull Cafe

Biscuit cravings are not uncommon while strolling around Charleston. Satisfy your taste buds on Saturdays and Sundays from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. with Sixty Bull’s unique take on this Southern classic.

The cafe’s sweet potato biscuit is the Southern hybrid you didn’t know you needed. Standard biscuit dough is made of flour, butter, salt, butter, baking powder and either milk or cream. Sixty Bull elevates this simple recipe by substituting some of the cream with roasted, pureed sweet potatoes.

The sweet potatoes don’t weigh down the biscuit, making these just as light and fluffy as a traditional biscuit.

“You can’t have sweet potatoes without cinnamon,” said sous chef Jason Lewis, so the cafe adds a pinch of this spice to drive home the warm, comforting flavor of the biscuit.

Sixty Bull Cafe offers sweet potato biscuits Saturdays and Sundays from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. | Rūta Smith file photo

Diners can swap toast for the biscuit with the Harleston Green Standard Breakfast, which also includes two eggs, Heritage Farms bacon or linguica sausage and grits or home fries.

For a brunch plate where the biscuit is the main attraction, look no further than the fried chicken biscuit topped with housemade pimiento cheese. Diners can get one chicken biscuit for $10 or two for $19. The pimiento cheese is also made in-house with Carolina Mountain Cheddar from Asheville.

Lewis also told the City Paper that if enough people demand the biscuits after this article comes out, the restaurant may go back to serving them seven days a week. Let’s make it happen.

Sweet potato entree
Sorghum & Salt

Sorghum & Salt’s menu features a dish labeled “Sweet Potato.” But a lot more goes into creating it than just plopping a sweet potato on a plate. In fact, making the dish is a two-day process.

“We basically make a millefeuille (which means ‘thousand layers’ in French) out of it,” said Tres Jackson, the restaurant’s chef and owner. “We take the sweet potatoes and shave them, layer them, brush them with clarified butter, weigh them down, bake them, then press them again and cut them into squares.”

Photo by Ruta Smith

This process forms the potatoes into a “mock steak,” he said. The layers are pressed together so tightly that it forms one cohesive piece of sweet potato. But, when you cut into it, you can see all the layers — and, consequently, all of the effort that went into creating the dish.

The end result is a welcome replacement for a meaty entree. After the layered cube is formed, it is cooked just like a steak.

“We sear it in a cast iron pan and baste it with butter and thyme to get it nice and charred,” Jackson said.

The chef equates the dish to a filet oscar because it is served with crab and bearnaise sauce. These thoughtful pairings help the vegetable hold its own as an entree. Vegetarian diners can order the dish sans crab, but the dish cannot be made vegan because the clarified butter is the key to the dish’s success.

“It’s easy to sell shishito peppers as an appetizer, but making vegetables substantial and function as the main dish is where the real challenge of being a vegetable-forward concept comes in, so that’s what we spent this year focusing on,” Jackson said.

The first iteration of this dish was inspired by Murasaki sweet potatoes sourced from Growfood Carolina. Jackson explained these are an Asian variety of sweet potatoes that have yellow flesh and a starch content that helps bind them together well.

When the Murasakis are unavailable, the restaurant can still produce the dish with different varieties, especially because sweet potatoes can thrive nearly year-round in Charleston.

Jackson noted that Murasakis are about to become available, so hurry in to try this decadent vegetable-forward dish.

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