Clams with Sweet Potato, Smoked Sausage, and Watercress

From Matt Lee and Ted Lee, Authors of The Lee Bros. Simple Fresh Southern

Simple Fresh Southern
Matt Lee and Ted LeeIn the Lowcountry this time of year, the shellfish is at its briny best and the sweet potatoes are ready to be nudged from the soil. This simple recipe celebrates autumn in the South, bringing clams, sweet potato and smoked sausage together in a dish that's sure to warm you up on chilly weeknights this Fall. The potatoes seem to draw out the sweetness of the clams, which release their sea-saltiness into the smoky white-wine broth as they open. The layers of flavor are simple, clean, and precise, and yet it’s a quick-cooking one-pot dish that can be brought straight to the table. For guests, we'll serve this dish as a light first-course over a tangle of watercress, but on an especially cold night, we’ll add some cooked thin linguine along with the watercress, to make a rib-sticking supper. If you like your flavors fiery, see the variation for a Hot and Spicy version of this dish below the main recipe. --Matt Lee and Ted Lee

Clams with Sweet Potato, Smoked Sausage, and Watercress
Serves 4 as a small plate or 2 as a main dish
Time: 10 minutes preparation, 20 minutes cooking

Clams with Sweet Potato, Smoked Sausage, and Watercress

3 ounces smoked sausage, such as Cajun andouille, Polish kielbasa, or cured (fully cooked) chorizo, sliced thinly or diced
2 cups full-flavored dry white wine, such as unoaked Chardonnay, Grüner Veltliner, or Viognier
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
3/4 pound sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch dice (about 3 cups)
24 littleneck clams, or 16 cherrystone clams
1 bunch watercress (4 to 5 ounces), stems trimmed

In a 3-quart Dutch oven or saucepan, saute the sausage over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until the pieces are just beginning to brown and have rendered their fat, 5 to 6 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer about half the sausage pieces to a double thickness of paper towel to drain. Leave the rest in the pan.

Add 2 cups water, the wine, and the salt, cover, and bring to a boil. Then add the sweet potatoes, and when the liquid returns to a boil, continue to cook for 3 minutes. Add the clams, and continue to cook until all the clams have opened and the sweet potatoes are tender, 6 to 8 minutes. Discard any clams that don't open.

Arrange a tangle of watercress (about 2 sprigs) in the bottom of each of 4 soup bowls. Divide the clams, sweet potatoes, sausage, and broth evenly among the bowls, and garnish with the reserved sausage and another tangle of watercress. Serve immediately.

If you enjoy the heat of dried red chiles and the aromatic twinge of garlic, add 1/2 teaspoon of crushed red chile flakes and 3 cloves chopped carlic to the pot just after transferring half the sausage from teh pot to the paper towel. Stir the garlic and crushed chile around in the sausage fat until the garlic is translucent and golden (but not brown)--about 30 seconds--before adding the liquids and salt.

Southern food fans likely know Matt and his brother Ted already, and the outline of their story: siblings who grew up in Charleston, South Carolina, and were stranded in dead-end jobs in New York City after college. They founded a mail-order source for southern snacks (The Lee Bros. Boiled Peanuts Catalogue), and became food writers when one of their customers, an editor at Travel + Leisure, asked them to road-trip South Carolina in search of great food. They have gone on to write more than 25 stories for T+L, in locales as far-flung as New Zealand and Ethiopia.

Matt and Ted were the first young food writers to bring a refreshingly scrappy, ravenous voice to the rarefied food coverage in the New York Times. Their first story for the Grey Lady, about being homesick southerners stranded in New York City and trying to find raw peanuts at the Hunts Point Market in the Bronx, brought to life a corner of New York that even most New Yorkers had never heard of. And their freewheeling food writing touched a nerve in magazines typically tucked-in and straight-laced: they wrote about a Tennessee corn-cob winemaker in Gourmet, for example, and for Food & Wine, a road-trip to hardscrabble Appalachian Kentucky, illustrated with their own photos.

But it was their first cookbook that put them on the map as writers to be reckoned with: The Lee Bros. Southern Cookbook swept the 2007 awards season, winning Amazon Editors' #1 Best Cookbook of 2006, two IACP awards (including the Julia Child Award) and two James Beard Awards, including Cookbook of the Year. They are the youngest authors ever to take Cookbook of the Year.

In the decade since they began writing, the landscape has changed substantially for southern food. Matt and Ted can speak to the state of southern food today with the perspective of knowing where it's been, as well as where it's going. With their new book, The Lee Bros. Simple Fresh Southern, they're moving a deeper discussion of southern food into the mainstream.

Matt lives in Charleston and in upstate New York with wife Gia and baby Arthur. Ted lives in Charleston, SC, and Brooklyn, NY, with his wife, the artist E.V. Day.

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