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Charlotte students’ sweet-potato pasta is a palate-fooler

By Kathleen Purvis
Kathleen Purvis
Kathleen Purvis is the Food Editor for The Charlotte Observer.

Dustin Wigglesworth and Joseph Siccardi used a sweet potato to do something crazy recently.

Call it the culinary version of “made you look.”

Dustin, 22, and Joseph, 21, are seniors at Johnson & Wales University, ready to graduate.

I met them when I was at JWU to judge a culinary contest put on by S&D Coffee. Finalists had to make a dish in one hour that used coffee or tea.

The dishes were all good, from coffee-flavored granola bars to seared red snapper in a tea-flavored broth.

Then I got Dustin and Joseph’s dish: Pork belly and sauteed vegetables on a bed of very flavorful pasta.

Pasta that was tender. Pasta that was orange. Pasta that was… not pasta. Hold the stove – is that strips of sweet potato? You can’t cook sweet potato like that. It would fall apart.

Wouldn’t it?

Dustin and Joseph were second runners-up that day. But I still wanted to know more about that pasta. So a couple of weeks ago, I went over to JWU and met them in an empty kitchen.

“Every time I describe it, people think it’s a dough,” Dustin says. “And when I say, ‘No, it’s just strips of sweet potato,’ they say, ‘It doesn’t fall apart? That’s crazy.’”

They had wanted to match their pork belly with a coffee-flavored barbecue sauce with sweet potato. But they didn’t want a plain puree and they couldn’t make sweet potato gnocchi in an hour.

So Joseph came up with the solution. On “Top Chef,” he had seen Richard Blais, the crazy-creative Atlanta chef, do a “mock fettuccine” with strips of potato. Judge Tom Colicchio was fooled into thinking it was perfectly cooked pasta.

Dustin and Joseph hit the kitchen and discovered it works with sweet potato, too.

They just shave off strips with a sharp vegetable peeler, the kind that’s shaped like a round “Y.” They put the strips in a bowl of water to keep them crisp.

Then they melt plenty of butter, about 1/4 cup, in a skillet until it’s sizzling and add the sweet potato strips. After 2 or 3 minutes, they add a little maple syrup and salt. They remove the strips with tongs and use the leftover butter to cook a “pasta” topping, from mushrooms to Brussels sprouts.

If you want to watch Dustin and Joseph cooking the noodles, go to my blog, I’ll Bite, to watch a short video and see Blais’ original recipe.

Dustin and Joseph are heading back home soon – Jacksonville for Dustin, upstate New York for Joseph. They both “kinda/sorta” have restaurant jobs lined up.

I hope they’ll stay in touch. I’d love to know what they come up with next.

Join the food conversation at Kathleen Purvis’ blog I’ll Bite, at obsbite.blogspot.com, or follow her on Twitter, @kathleenpurvis.
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