We’re in the Thanksgiving stretch now, and in our house it’s not Thanksgiving without sweet potatoes. However, sweet potatoes are a nutrition powerhouse and should be part of a varied diet all year round. With this much Vitamin A (262% of your recommended daily intake) in 1 77gr potato, it’s hard to go wrong with this tasty root vegetable.
Native to Central America, the sweet potato dates back to prehistoric times. Carbon-dated relics found in Peru are thought to be over 10,000 years old. Columbus took sweet potatoes back to Europe with him on his first trip to the Americas. Sweet potatoes are also grown in southern Pacific countries like Phillipines, New Zealand and the Cook Islands, but it is unclear whether they got there via Spanish travellers after Columbus, or whether they made it to Polynesia directly from Central America.
There are over 400 varieties of sweet potato, varying in colours that include white, yellow, bright orange and even purple, and ranging in shape from typically potato-shaped to long and thin. There are firm, dry varieties, and some that are softer and moist. Ironically, the sweet potato is not related to the potato, nor is it related to the yam, although in many places, the name is used interchangeably. General theory is that the Taino (Bahamian) name for the vegetable was batata, which sounds an awful lot like “potato”. The sweet potato earned its “yam” moniker from African slaves in the Caribbean and southern US where the soft, moist (usually orange) sweet potato was often used in place of the yam in traditional African cuisine.
The most common way to eat the sweet potato is either steamed or boiled, but it shows up prepared in a variety of ways around the globe.
- In Japan, sweet potatoes are common in tempura
- In Malaysia, they’re often added to curry
- In parts of Africa, they are dried and served with peanut sauce
- The greens are used in many cultures, and are normally steamed or sautéed
- Sweet potato starch is used in parts of Asia to make cellophane noodles and even wrappers for spring rolls (similar to rice paper)
- In both India and Spain, sweet potatoes are normally roasted, and they’re a common food eaten in northern Spain on All Soul’s Day
- Here in North America, sweet potatoes are served in a variety of ways; baked boiled and mashed, candied (mixed with honey, molasses, maple syrup or brown sugar.. and occasionally topped with marshmallows), used in baked items (pie, muffins, bread), and let’s not forget those uber-popular sweet potato fries
When choosing sweet potatoes, look for firm specimens with no cracks, bruises or soft spots. Store them in a cool, dark, well-ventilated place, but absolutely not in the refrigerator. A root cellar is best, but barring that, a dark cupboard, away from the stove if possible, in something like a basket or bowl to allow air flow.
Sweet potatoes are available in supermarkets, but for a better selection, check you local farmers market for the folks from Round Plains Plantation who grow a bunch of different types, all without the use of any chemicals.
Roasted Sweet Potato Gnocchi with Chestnuts, Sage Brown Butter & Gres des Champs
from Chef Andrea Nicholson, Great Cooks on Eight
1 (3/4-pound) sweet potato
1 1/4 pounds russet potatoes
1 large egg
1/2 teaspoon grated nutmeg
1/3 cup grated Parmigiano
1 1/2 to 2 cups all-purpose flour plus more for dusting
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
8 sage leaves
1/3 cup canned chestnuts (dry) or fresh roasted, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
200g gres des champs (unpasteurized cow milk cheese, available at the Cheese Boutique)
Preheat oven to 450°F with rack in middle.
Pierce russet and sweet potatoes in several places with a fork, bake in a 4-sided sheet pan until just tender, 45 minutes to 1 hour.
Cool potatoes slightly, then peel and force through ricer into sheet pan, spreading in an even layer. Cool potatoes completely.
Lightly flour 2 or 3 large baking sheets or line with parchment paper.
Beat together egg, nutmeg, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper in a small bowl.
Gather potatoes into a mound in sheet pan, using a pastry scraper if you have one, and form a well in centre.
Pour egg mixture into well, knead into potatoes. Knead in cheese and 1 1/2 cups flour, then knead, adding more flour as necessary, until mixture forms a smooth but slightly sticky dough. Dust top lightly with some of flour.
Cut dough into 6 pieces. Form 1 piece of dough into a 1/2-inch-thick rope on a lightly floured surface. Cut rope into 1/2-inch pieces. Gently roll each piece into a ball and lightly dust with flour.
Repeat with remaining 5 pieces of dough.
Turn a fork over and hold at a 45-degree angle, with tips of tines touching work surface. Working with 1 at a time, roll gnocchi down fork tines, pressing with your thumb, to make ridges on 1 side. Transfer gnocchi as formed to baking sheets.
Add butter to oil in skillet with 1/2 teaspoon salt and cook until golden-brown, 1 to 2 minutes. Add sliced chestnuts and sage leaves, cook for another 1 minute and remove from heat
Add half of gnocchi to a pasta pot of well-salted boiling water and stir. Cook until they float to surface, about 3 minutes. Transfer with a slotted spoon to skillet with butter sauce. Cook remaining gnocchi in same manner, transferring to skillet as cooked.
Heat gnocchi in skillet over medium heat for 2 minutes, stirring to coat.
Drizzle chestnut brown butter over gnocchi and shave the gres des champs over top, serve.
Southern Sweet Potato Pie
from Ontario Sweet Potato
1/3 cup butter
3/4 cup sugar
2 eggs, beaten
3/4 cup evaporated milk
2 cups cooked, mashed sweet potatoes
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp each, cinnamon and nutmeg
1 unbaked 9 inch pie shell
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Cream butter and sugar together. Add eggs and stir. Add sweet potatoes and mix well. Stir in milk, vanilla and salt, making sure all ingredients are thoroughly mixed.
Pour into pie shell and bake 40 minutes or until a knife inserted in the centre comes out clean. (When using a commercially frozen pie shell, use a 9-inch deep dish shell.)