Pity that we seem to think about sweet potatoes mainly at Thanksgiving, because they are an altogether fabulous food. Of course my family would mutiny if I didn’t prepare a sweet potato dish for Thanksgiving; however, this year I decided to plan ahead and see if I could create a recipe that would be good not only for Thanksgiving but all during the peak sweet potato season: fall. If you store them correctly, away from the light at a temperature around 50°F (not refrigerated!), they will keep for three to six months. Otherwise, buy only enough to last for two weeks. There are two main varieties widely available: sweet potatoes with thin, yellow skins and yellow flesh, and sweet potatoes with dark orange skin and bright orange flesh. Both are rich in vitamins A and C and cooking them in their skins preserves the most nutrients.
The traditional sweet potato casserole has, in my opinion, several problems. First most recipes call for peeling the sweet potatoes and then cooking them in water, thus diluting their flavor and nutrients, not to mention adding a time- and labor-intensive step. Second, most recipes are overly sweet. Third, sweet potato casserole recipes are limited to one topping.
So this year I developed a recipe that calls for microwaving them in their skins, scooping out the cooked flesh and mixing it with just enough brown sugar and butter, then re-stuffing the skins.
That way I could indulge all three of my family’s favorite toppings: marshmallow and pecan; banana and brown sugar; crisp bacon crumbles and pure maple syrup. The recipe is big enough to serve eight to twelve, but can easily be reduced to fewer servings because each potato makes two servings.
The potatoes can be prepared completely up to baking, wrapped and refrigerated (there is no egg in the mixture), and cooked the next day. A single potato half makes a great lunch box treat to be reheated in the microwave. And, if your family is addicted to the big casserole, the full recipe will make one big casserole, and you can top it with one, two or all three toppings.
A word about bacon: Prepared, shelf-stable crumbled bacon is certainly a convenience, but, in this recipe, nothing replaces the flavor and crisp texture of freshly cooked thin-sliced bacon that is drained of excess fat and crumbled.
Bags or jars of bacon bits do not deliver the same flavor and texture.
- 6 large sweet potatoes, washed and scrubbed
- ¾ cup packed brown sugar
- ¼ cup (8 tablespoons) butter or nondairy alternative, preferably Earth Balance
- 1 ½ teaspoons sale
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- For toppings:
- 4 tablespoons chopped pecans, or as needed
- 4 marshmallows, halved, or as needed
- 1 ripe banana, or as needed
- 4 tablespoons brown sugar
- 4 thin slices of bacon, crisply fried, drained, crumbled
- Pure maple syrup, as needed
- Pierce potatoes with the tip of a knife and microwave, 3 at a time, until cooked through, about 12 to 15 minutes, depending on your microwave.
- When cool enough to handle, half potatoes lengthwise and scoop out flesh with a spoon, leaving skin intact.
- Transfer flesh to a large bowl. Add sugar, butter, salt and cinnamon. Mash well with a potato masher and, using masher, whip to mix well.
- Preheat oven to 375°F.
- Distribute potato mixture equally among potato skins, shaping skins with hands.
- Place potato halves on a parchment paper-lined half sheet pan.
- Top four potato halves each with 3 marshmallow halves and sprinkle with 1 tablespoon of pecans.
- Top four potato halves each with 3 or four banana slices and sprinkle with 1 tablespoons brown sugar.
- Top four potato halves each with 1 crumbled bacon slice and a generous drizzle of maple syrup.
- Bake potato halves until marshmallows melt and brown and brown sugar caramelizes, about 20 minutes. Serve one per person.
Variation: Spray a 9 by 12-inch casserole with nonstick cooking spray and transfer mashed sweet potato mixture to the casserole, smoothing top. Top casserole with three layers of toppings above. Or increase quantities of topping ingredients and top casserole with a single topping. Bake until cooked through and bubbling, about 30 to 35 minutes. To prepare ahead: Stuff potatoes (or prepare casserole), wrap and refrigerate. Add to cooking time by 10 minutes for stuffed potatoes and 15 minutes for the casserole.
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