Wednesday, October 8, 2008
Sweet Child Of Mine
I have had a long and tumultuous love affair with sweet potatoes. It began innocently enough. I would see them once a year at the Thanksgiving table and ignore them, finding that they were generally bland and less sexy than the cornucopia of delicious dishes before me. As I grew older I eventually came to appreciate the simple pleasure of a baked sweet potato--the way its inherent sweetness complimented a tart cranberry sauce, how when it was lightly buttered it took on an almost whipped texture, and best of all, how it tasted after streaking a coral colored forkful through a juicy puddle of turkey gravy. But after a few happy years, my relationship with the sweet potato grew stale. I found myself disinterested and more and more drawn to the green beans laced with paprika and Spanish ham. Unable to resist the temptation of a creamy and luscious macaroni and cheese. Drooling at the mere thought of crispy turkey skin and moist stuffing.
It was only after several years of formal separation that I came to see the sweet potato in a new light. It was about 6 years ago when I first spent a Thanksgiving at the Cuadra household (my Thanksgiving home away from home), where I tasted a baked sweet potato dish that showed this humble ingredient in a new light. It finally became clear to me that like so many Thanksgiving ingredients, sweet potatoes need some sort of culinary wingman--that super charismatic, can't resist flavor that elevates it to where it needs to be to win you over. In this case, the part of the wingman was played by marshmallows, which because if their intense sweetness, allow the sweet potato to shine as a slightly more savory ingredient. Now I find myself attracted to the sweet potato dish, even stealing away the crunchy browned bits when no one is looking.
I was reminded of this relationship while perusing some of the stalls at the greenmarket this past weekend. I came across so many interesting new fall ingredients, including a lovely type of sweet potato that was completely foreign to me, known as the "finger" sweet potato. These sweet potatoes were long and nubby, and for the most part thinner than your index finger. They have a slightly redder skin than your average large sweet potato, but cook much faster and have a milder flavor. It took me a while to come up with something to do with them, but once I thought about roasting, I knew exactly what I wanted to do. I'd originally thought about a honey glaze, but had been wanting to experiment with a balsamic one, so I reduced some regular balsamic vinegar and sugar, then slowly melted in some butter to keep the glaze from hardening in the oven. I seasoned the whole thing with just a little salt (sometimes acid like vinegar can be interpreted by your taste buds as salty, so I didn't want to overdo it) and some dried thyme that I broke up with my fingers. It was delicious and fragrant, and left my apartment smelling of fall. Here's how to do it for yourself:
Roasted Finger Sweet Potatoes
1/3 cup balsamic vinegar
1 Tbsp sugar
2 cups finger sweet potatoes, peeled, or 2 large sweet potatoes cut into steak fries
1/2 stick of butter, cut into tablespoon slices
1/2 tsp dried or fresh thyme
fresh ground black pepper
1. Preheat over to 400 F degrees.
2. Simmer vinegar and sugar in a non-stick skillet or saucier over medium-low heat until slightly reduced, about 3 minutes. Slowly add butter 1 piece at a time, stirring to combine (I like using a rubber spatula so the glaze doesn't stick and harden).
3. Add sweet potatoes and thyme to skillet and toss to coat. Cook 1 minute further and transfer sweet potatoes to a non-stick or foil covered baking sheet. Bake, stirring often, until potatoes are browned and cooked through, about 30-35 minutes. Enjoy!