To me, Thanksgiving dinner simply would not be complete without some type of sweet potatoes. Over the years, I've enjoyed them in many different ways, but all have been on the sweet side of the street: my sister in law uses a recipe that's lightly maple scented, my mother's involves layers of sweet potatoes with orange juice and dried apricots, while my mother-in-law's version is filled with butter, sugar and pecans.
Pardon the terrible photo; in person this really looked good and tasted even better
This year I was up for trying something new. I paged through cookbooks and checked my online recipe bookmarks, and narrowed it down to two recipes:
1. Williams Sonoma's Sweet Potatoes with Brown Butter and Parmesan Cheese (recipe at end of this post) from The Best of the Kitchen Library, Holiday Favorites volume.
2. Saveur's adorable Sweet Potato Casserole (with marshmallow topping on one side and the other half with nuts and brown sugar)
I left the final decision up to A.L.E. She was heavily swayed by the parmesan cheese, and chose the Williams Sonoma recipe.
- I made a quarter-recipe for the three of us.
- the Cook's Illustrated Fall Entertaining 2008 magazine has an article about making mashed sweet potatoes. In their usual obsessive way, they figured out exactly the best way to cook sweet potatoes so they don't get soggy, or lose their flavor. It turns out braising them on the stovetop is the best method. I decided try braising instead of the steaming that the recipe has for the first step. I put the tiniest bit of butter and water in the very bottom of the pan. The sweet potatoes took it from there, mostly cooking themselves without losing too much juice. This step added another dirty pan, but I served the potatoes in their baking dish, so I saved one there. (But, really, Thanksgiving is totally about using every pot, pan, and dish in the kitchen, isn't it? And covering every available inch of counter space with something.)
- I didn't read carefully enough, and put all the cheese in before popping the baking dish in the oven. It did kind of clump together, so it would have been better to grate some on top after taking it out of the oven.
This recipe is a keeper! I know the picture up top is not great, but take my word for it; these potatoes are really, really, really good. The brown butter and sage are a perfect complement to the flavor of the potatoes. I liked the Cook's Illustrated method of cooking the potatoes and will do that every time I need to pre-cook sweet potatoes.
It's a great recipe for Thanksgiving but unlike the marshmallow topped casserole, this one could be an appropriate side dish for a normal dinner.
Sweet Potatoes with Brown Butter and Parmesan Cheese
4 lb tan-skinned sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 cup chopped fresh sage or 1 1/2 tablespoons dried sage
salt and freshly ground pepper
1 1/4 cups freshly grated Parmesan cheese
fresh sage sprigs, optional
Place potatoes on a steamer rack and set over a steamer pan of boiling water. Do not allow the rack to touch the water. Cover and steam until just tender when pierced with a fork, about 15 minutes. Remove from the steamer and let cool. (I braised the potato cubes on the stovetop in a little butter + water)
Preheat an oven to 400 F. Butter a 13-by-9-by-2-inch baking dish. Transfer the sweet potatoes to the dish.
In a heavy frying pan over medium-low heat, melt the butter and cook, swirling the pan occasionally, until the butter is golden brown, about 5 minutes. Add the chopped or dried sage and salt and pepper to taste. Continue to cook until the butter is a deep golden brown, about 2 minutes longer. Pour the browned butter over the sweet potatoes. Sprinkle evenly with 3/4 cup of the cheese. Stir to coat. Taste and add more salt, and pepper, if desired. Cover the dish with aluminum foil. (Oops, I put all the cheese in the pan)
Bake the sweet potatoes until heated through, about 20 minutes. Transfer to a warmed serving platter and sprinkle evenly with the remaining 1/2 cup Parmesan. Garnish with sage sprigs, if desired, and serve at once.