Italian food with Southern soul
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MEMPHIS, March 18 — Andrew Ticer met Michael Hudman on the basketball court in the sixth grade. Back then, when they played for rival Catholic schools in Memphis, no one could have predicted they would become the city’s restaurant royalty, winning national recognition for their restaurant Hog & Hominy.
Hudman has always been bigger, louder and gregarious. Ticer is quieter, gentler and more of a tactician. But they share the Italian gene, the one that is fiercely loyal to friends, food and family. (Ticer’s roots go back to Sicily, Hudman’s to Tuscany.)
They discovered a mutual love for restaurant life after attending different colleges. Together, they headed to Johnson & Wales University in Charleston, South Carolina, and picked up culinary degrees. Then it was on to Calabria to study Italian food.
Over the years, they have been to each other’s weddings, celebrated the births of each other’s babies and shared countless family Sunday suppers. And they still play basketball with each other several days a week.
People who work for them say they move through their days running four restaurants in Memphis and one at the Ace Hotel in New Orleans like a single organism.
“That’s pretty much true," Hudman said. “When we have coffee in the morning, it’s usually like we were both thinking about doing the same thing. I run with the idea, but Andy is the guy who actually makes it work.”
The dishes will show up here at Andrew Michael Kitchen, which they opened in 2008, or Hog & Hominy, which became a favorite of the national food media after it opened in 2012. (The name Hog & Hominy comes from a nickname Tennessee earned in the mid-1800s for its corn and pork production.)
The two have also opened Porcellino’s, a butcher shop and breakfast place, and, most recently, Catherine & Mary’s, a restaurant in a revitalized part of downtown Memphis that people now call South Main.
The big, lofty building is a short walk to Beale Street and was home to WHBQ, the AM radio station where the D.J. Dewey Phillips was the first to broadcast an Elvis Presley song. (In Memphis, these details matter.)
It is the most directly Italian of their restaurants, named after their Italian grandmothers and heavy with pasta. Still, they haven’t stopped building Italian food with the Southern ingredients they love, both here and at their other restaurants. Leftover biscuits become the base for gnocchi. Smoked catfish stands in for bacalao, or salt cod. Thick slices of sweet potato spend an hour slowly cooking in pork fat until they become almost custardlike but still hold their shape.
The idea for that dish came from their mutual love of the pecan-topped, sweet potato casserole that Ticer’s mom makes.
Slices of the sweet potato confit are crisped on a griddle, then coated with pecans, chorizo and butter. Mint and crème fraîche punched up with yuzu add brightness and tame the chorizo.
“This is really Andy’s dish," Hudman said. “The guy eats sweet potatoes three or four times a week.”
Sweet Potato Confit with Chorizo and Crème Fraîche
Total time: 1 hour 20 minutes
Yield: 6 servings
1 (8-ounce) container crème fraîche
2 tablespoons lemon or yuzu juice
2 pounds sweet potatoes (about 2 or 3)
Ground black pepper
About 3 cups olive oil, depending on the size of the baking dish
1/2 cup bacon fat (optional)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 pound spicy fresh chorizo
1/2 cup toasted pecans, roughly chopped
1/4 cup mint leaves, torn
1. In a small bowl, mix together crème fraîche and citrus juice and refrigerate until you are ready to assemble the dish. Heat oven to 350 degrees.
2. Scrub but do not peel the sweet potatoes, then slice into 1/2-inch-thick disks. Place in a single layer in one large baking dish, or in 2 smaller baking dishes if all the slices won’t fit. (A few slices can overlap, but keep this to a minimum.) Season well with salt and black pepper. Pour in enough olive oil to just cover slices. If a few edges are exposed, don’t worry. If also using bacon fat, pour or spoon it over the slices.
3. Bake for 1 hour or until fork tender. Remove the baking dish from the oven, let the oil cool slightly, then carefully remove the slices with a slotted spatula, letting most of the oil drip back into the baking dish before placing the slices on a plate or sheet pan. Reserve 4 tablespoons oil and set aside. (At this point the slices can be refrigerated for up to 5 days.)
4. In a large, heavy skillet, place 2 tablespoons of the reserved oil, the butter and the chorizo over medium heat. Cook, breaking up the sausage into the smallest bits you can and stirring occasionally to render the fat, about 5 to 10 minutes.
5. Heat another large sauté pan, or a griddle over medium-high heat, and add the sweet potato slices in batches, frying a couple of minutes on each side until they start to crisp and caramelize. (The sweet potatoes can cook in the pan without additional fat, but if they are sticking, you can use a bit more of the reserved oil.) Add sweet potatoes and pecans to the pan with the chorizo and gently turn the slices a few times until they are well coated, being careful not to break them.
6. Remove sweet potatoes to a serving plate, spoon remaining chorizo-pecan mixture evenly over the slices, then add small dollops of crème fraîche. Sprinkle with torn mint leaves. Serve immediately, with any remaining crème fraîche on the side. — The New York TImes