Published in the Shelter Island Reporter on December 24, 2015
Last Saturday, I found myself in possession of a 4-pound sweet potato, part of my share for the Sylvester Manor Farm CSA. At first, I wasn’t enthusiastic about taking home such a substantial vegetable. Would it be stringy? Would I need a power tool to cut it up? If I failed to prick enough steamholes in the skin would it explode and blow the door off my oven?
When I expressed my reservations to Kurt Ericksen, who grew these mammoth sweet potatoes in Windmill Field, he was quick to reassure me, “They intimidate a lot of folks even though they taste just as good and have a longer storage life than the smaller ones. I’ve got a few 4-pounders in the back.”
I resolved not to allow myself to be intimidated by a root vegetable. Instead of fearing my 4-pounder, I began to see opportunity. Bucking the holiday tradition of tiny onions and the trendy practice of serving carrots the size of swizzle sticks, I would roast and serve this massive tuber whole.
It turns out that sweet potatoes in excess of 3 or 4 pounds are common, although grocery stores rarely stock them. They can be found at farmstands but you have to ask. And when you find one, buy it. They keep much longer than the standard half pounders.
Ira Haspell at The Farm in Southold reports that he grew a 9-pound sweet potato last fall, a tuber that fed 15 people at his Thanksgiving table. He explained that sweet potatoes are perennials and keep growing until the cold weather stops them. Considering that some folks were still mowing their lawns last week, it’s safe to say the 2015 growing season has hung on.
The world-record sweet potato was over 81 pounds, grown in Spain in 2004. The recipes here will work for one in the 3- to 5- pound range, which is big enough to feed a crowd but not so large that it will scare the children.
Sweet heaven, is that a sweet potato?
Serves eight as a side dish
One 3- to 4- pound sweet potato
4 tablespoons of butter
2 tablespoons minced Italian parsley
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 teaspoon sea salt
Ground black pepper
Plain yogurt (optional)
1. Wash the sweet potato thoroughly, scrubbing with a vegetable brush, and trim off any unsightly spots. The rosy skin of very large sweet potatoes can be fragile, but if you scrub or trim some off, it will still hold together during baking.
2. Rub the skin liberally with 2 tablespoons of butter.
3. Soften 2 tablespoons of butter and combine with 1 tablespoon of minced parsley and the smoked paprika and reserve.
4. Poke holes in the skin with a sharp fork.
5. Line a large roasting pan or cookie sheet with a sheet of parchment or greased foil.
6. Bake at 375 degrees for 2 hours and 30 minutes, or using convection, roast at 350 degrees for 1 hour and 45 minutes.
7. Split the potato, arrange the two sides face-up in the pan and spread half of the reserved butter/parsley/spice mixture on each face.
8. Test for tenderness. If the center is still resistant to your fork, roast for another 15 minutes and test again.
9. Serve topped with dabs of plain yogurt (optional), some coarse sea salt and the rest of the parsley.
Alternate preparation: If you like your sweet potato a little smoother, after step 8, scoop out most of the flesh using a dull-sided spoon (so you don’t break the skin) and puree it in a food processor.
Flip the skins over in the roasting pan, brush with a little melted butter, salt and pepper and bake for another 10 minutes. They should still be soft, but starting to crisp.
Flip them skin-side down on a serving platter, scoop the puree onto the crisped skins and top with yogurt and parsley.