This is the kind of thing you come up with when you have a one year-old who, like many one year-olds, wishes to eat sweet potatoes with every meal. Sure, the goal is for the kid to eat exactly what the rest of the family is eating for dinner, but there are only so many days in a row we can feign excitement over a side of sweet potatoes and I have only so much heart to deny the kid something he delights in. And so I spent a good part of September and October roasting sweet potatoes, repeating the task enough times that I made two great discoveries.
The first discovery came about through laziness. Tired of slicing thin pieces and laying them out over two trays, one day I cut very thick rounds that would fit on one tray and discovered that like steak, if you want three layers of texture (two satisfyingly firm exteriors and a soft center), you want a thick piece, high temperatures and to flip your “steaks” halfway through for even cooking.
Like most good kitchen discoveries, the second one happened by accident, that is, getting distracted enough by a climbing one year-old that the potatoes blistered and became a little dark on top. Almost charred. Almost “oops!” These soft-centered, nearly blackened discs tasted tremendously like toasted marshmallows, if marshmallows were something you could pull off without gelatin, a candy thermometer and epic amounts of sugar and were chock full of Vitamins A and C thus could be eaten guiltlessly. And we all know that the intersection of marshmallows and sweet potatoes much mean that Thanksgiving has come around again, and people, I love the tastes of Thanksgiving.
And so I built a little salad, a little fall salsa, a little pile of Thanksgiving with small diced celery, shallots, dried cranberries, toasted pecans, parsley and crumbled goat cheese and a light vinaigrette and I sprinkled it over these marshmallow-y sweet potato coins and lo and behold, found something that felt like Thanksgiving without the ensuing food coma, and that all three of us delighted in eating at the same time. Oh thank goodness.
Sweet Potatoes with Pecans, Goat Cheese and Celery [a.k.a. Roasted Marshmallow-y Sweet Potatoes with Thanksgiving on Top]
I roast vegetables a little oddly these days. I used to do it the “normal” way, tossing them with oil and then laying them out on a sheet but I always needed more and more oil and the pieces still stuck. Once I started generously oiling the pan, my vegetables started browning really well and didn’t get weighed down — most of the oil stays on the roasting pan.
Wary of celery? Swap all or half with chopped radishes. Don’t like goat cheese? Try ricotta salata or even blue cheese instead. Firmly believe that everything is improved by bacon? Crumble some in there, or use browned bits of pancetta. Don’t like sweet potatoes? Skip them and added diced leftover turkey to the “salad”, with additional vinaigrette or just mayo.
Serves 2 1/2
1 1/2 pounds sweet potato, scrubbed, unpeeled, in 3/4- to 1-inch coins
4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1/4 cup toasted and cooled pecan halves
2 tiny or 1 small shallot
2 stalks celery
2 tablespoons flat-leaf parsley
1 tablespoon dried cranberries or cherries (optional)
2 ounces firmish goat cheese
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 teaspoons red wine vinegar
1/2 teaspoon smooth Dijon mustard
Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Coat a large baking sheet generously with olive oil, about 1 to 2 tablespoons. Lay sweet potatoes in one layer on the oiled sheet. Sprinkle with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Roast, without disturbing, for 15 to 20 minutes. Carefully flip each piece: the undersides should be blistery, dark and a bit puffy and should release from the pan with no effort. If they’re not, let it cook longer. Sprinkle them with additional salt and freshly ground black pepper and return the pan to the oven for another 10 minutes or so, until the undersides match the tops.
Meanwhile, prepare your salad. Chop your pecans well, mince your shallot, chop your celery and parsley, mince cranberries if using them. Crumble your goat cheese. If you, like me, got too soft of a goat cheese for mixing, set it aside and sprinkle it on top. If it’s firmer, stir it into the mixture. In a small dish, whisk together 2 tablespoons olive oil, 2 teaspoons red wine vinegar and 1/2 teaspoon dijon. Pour half over salad.
When the sweet potatoes are done, set a couple coins aside just in case the baby isn’t into the toppings. Lay the rest on a serving platter. Scoop a spoonful of the salsa over each round. Pour remaining salad dressing over top, to taste. Eat immediately.