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~Mel's Savory Crispy-Topped Sweet Potato Casserole~

IMG_5021I keep sweet potatoes on-hand all year.  I could, and occasionally do, make a meal just for me out of a pillowy-soft steaming-hot baked sweet potato (dripping with a few pats of melting butter and seasoned with a generous grinding of sea salt and a flavorful peppercorn blend).  It's simple, straightforward, scrumptious, and, oh-so-satisfying.  Even if it weren't super-nutritious, I'd simply slide the humble sweet potato off my "favorite foods list" and onto to my "guilty-pleasures-food-list", and go right on eating them anyway.  I love baked sweet potatoes.  That said:

While beauty is in the eye of the beholder, the gnarly sweet potato isn't the prettiest of foods. Better stated, it's not something I typically serve to guests, unless everyone's eating grill-to-fix-your-own-plate in the great outdoors (where presentation is not my responsibility).  That's why I came up with this particular sweet potato casserole recipe.  It brings all the flavors of baked sweet potatoes to the table, dressed up in a pretty casserole -- simple, straightforward and scrumptious.

Flavorful, baked sweet potatoes, served-up casserole-style: 

IMG_4984When it comes to sweet potato casseroles in general, I wish folks would try to think "savory side-dish" not "sweet dessert" and season them accordingly.  Sweet potato casseroles do not need sugar, brown sugar or honey added to them, and, just-say-no to marshmallows -- sweet potatoes are full of flavor, texture and they're naturally sweet.  When served as a savory side-dish to a meal, it's my opinion, they shouldn't contain commonly used pie spices -- no cinnamon or nutmeg please.  Dehydrated garlic and onion, herbes de Provence, salt, and black pepper do it for me.

An inconvenient truth:  A sweet potato is not a yam.

6a0120a8551282970b022ad37affb9200cA bit about sweet potatoes:  Sweet potatoes were first introduced to North America when Columbus brought them over from the island of St. Thomas, where this large edible root (which belongs to the morning-glory family) is native to the tropical regions of the Americas.  There are many varieties of sweet potato, but the two most widely grown commercially are a pale sweet potato and a dark-skinned variety Americans erroneously call "yam" (the true yam is not even related to the sweet potato).  The pale potato has a thin, light yellow skin and pale yellow flesh. Its flavor is not sweet, and, after being cooked, the pale sweet potato is dry and crumbly, similar to that of a Russet potato. The darker variety (pictured above) has a thicker, dark-orange skin and vivid-orange, sweet flesh.  When cooked it has a very sweet flavor and a creamy texture. The dark-skinned, orange-colored variety is the only kind I use in my recipes.

6a0120a8551282970b022ad3a12658200dWhen buying sweet potatoes, choose plump, firm even-sized ones with no cracks. Like regular potatoes they should never be stored in the refrigerator, but do need to be stored in a cool, dark, well-ventilated place. If the temperature is above 60 degrees, they'll begin to sprout, get woody and/or shriveled.  Cooked sweet potatoes, if stored in the refrigerator, last about a week.  Like regular potatoes, sweet potates are always eaten cooked, never raw.

For my savory crispy-topped sweet potato casserole:

IMG_4930For the sweet potato casserole:

6  cups smashed sweet potatoes, removed from 6 pounds sweet potatoes after baking or microwave-baking the potatoes

6  tablespoons salted butter (3/4 stick)

1  generous teaspoon dehydrated minced garlic

1  generous teaspoon dehydrated minced onion

2  teaspoons herbes de Provence (a blend of dried rosemary, marjoram, thyme and savory) 

2  teaspoons sea salt

2  teaspoons coarse-grind black pepper

4  large eggs

1 cup heavy or whipping cream

For the topping:

4  dozen Ritz crackers, no substitutions

8  tablespoons salted butter (1 stick)

IMG_4925Step 1.  Using the tip of a sharp paring knife, pierce tops of sweet potatoes in 4-5 spots.  Microwave-bake them until soft -- in my microwave this takes about 18 minutes.  Set aside until cool enough to comfortably handle with your hands, 15-20 minutes.  Using the paring knife and an ordinary tablespoon slice the potatoes in half, scoop out the soft centers, transfer them to a medium bowl and smash them with a fork.  Set aside.  

Note:  This task can be done several hours or a day or two in advance.

IMG_4932 IMG_4932 IMG_4932~Step 2.  In a 1-cup measuring container, melt the butter.  Remove from microwave and stir in the dehydrated garlic and onion, herbes de Provence, sea salt and coarse-grind pepper.  Set aside about 5-6 minutes.

IMG_4938 IMG_4938 IMG_4938 IMG_4938 IMG_4938 IMG_4938~Step 3.  In a large bowl, starting on low speed of hand-held electric mixer and working up to medium, beat eggs and cream, until smooth and uniform in color, about 45 seconds.  Add and beat in the seasoned butter mixture, about 45 seconds. Add the sweet potatoes.  Increase mixer speed to medium-high and beat until soft and smooth, about 2 minutes, scraping down sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula throughout the process. Transfer mixture to a 2-quart casserole that's been sprayed with no-stick cooking spray.

IMG_4954 IMG_4954 IMG_4954 IMG_4954 IMG_4954 IMG_4954 IMG_4954~Step 4. To prepare the topping, place the crackers in a 1-gallon food storage bag.  Using a small rolling pin, crush them to the size of coarse breadcrumbs.  In a 2-cup measuring container, melt the butter in the microwave.  Add the cracker crumbs to the melted butter.  Stir with a fork, until crumbs are all coated in the butter.  

IMG_4969 IMG_4973~Step 5.  Using the fork, evenly distribute topping atop sweet potato mixture.  Bake, uncovered, on center rack of preheated 325° oven until golden on top, bubbling slightly around the edges and puffed up through to center, 40-45 minutes, being sure to place a sheet of foil loosely over top of the casserole after 30 minutes of the baking process.

A crowd-pleasing year-round side-dish for poultry or pork:  

IMG_5045Mel's Savory Crispy-Topped Sweet Potato Casserole:  Recipe yields 12-16 servings.

Special Equipment List:  microwave oven; cutting board; paring knife; tablespoon; 1-cup measuring container; hand-held electric mixer; large rubber spatula; 2-quart casserole; 1-gallon food storage bag; small rolling pin; 2-cup measuring container; fork; aluminum foil

6a0120a8551282970b022ad3c11477200bCook's Note: As a gal who eats sweet potatoes all year long, I pay particular homage to them at Thanksgiving. Sometimes I present them as a cup of sweet potato soup as the starter to the meal, sometimes they arrive in the form of a side-dish sweet potato and caramelized apple casserole, other times they're the sweet potato, apple and sausage stuffing/dressing side-kick to my turkey, and, always but always, my traditional Turkey Day feast includes a sweet potato pie.

"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2020)


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