When I set out to create my holiday menus I always start with the basics. It’s not Thanksgiving without turkey, potatoes, cranberries, rolls, stuffing, sweet potatoes or squash and pies. But within those classic parameters there are endless possibilities. Each year is an opportunity to learn from the last and to think outside the box while still capturing those flavors that to me embody the holidays.
This recipe from Julia Turshen’s new book, Small Victories, fits into my holiday menu beautifully. It’s a simple classic with a twist. For years I held firm to my belief that if they didn’t come from a can shellacked in a sweet sticky syrup and then covered with toasted marshmallows then they weren’t sweet potatoes. Some may say I’ve matured.
Julia and I both agree that so many recipes do us all a disservice by saying that an onion can be caramelized in as little as ten minutes. To truly take an onion from its raw pungent state to the point where it melts into a puddle of deep sweetness you must invest at least forty-five minutes to the process. Don’t let this keep you from moving forward with this recipe but rather embrace the slow of it, casually stirring the sticky onions with one hand and a nip of red wine in the other.
Beyond the caramelizing there’s very little to be done. A tip of balsamic here, a stir of cooked bacon or pancetta there, and tuck in of sweet potatoes roasted until tender on the inside with edges trimmed in umber.
There’s a dual purpose in sharing this recipe now. I’m fairly certain it’s the final dish to complete your holiday menu and also, Julia and her publisher, Chronicle books are giving us all the opportunity to extend our holiday table by helping others fill their own. If you feel like helping others ensure that they too have the opportunity to share a meal please consider donating here.
This time at the table is special, perhaps this year more so than any other as our country feels deeply divided. I won’t make light of the pain so many are feeling and the fear that covers many but I hope and pray that the time at the table is covered in love and grace. There is something deeply intimate about sharing a meal together and I hope for all of you the time is fruitful and filled with radiating thanks giving.
Grace's Sweet Potatoes
from Small Victories
2 pounds sweet potatoes, unpeeled, scrubbed and cut into 1/2-inch dice
2 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
4 ounces pancetta, finely diced (I used bacon)
1 large red onion, thinly sliced
2 Tbsp dark brown sugar, honey, or maple syrup
2 Tbsp red wine vinegar
Preheat your oven to 425°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
Put the sweet potatoes on the prepared baking sheet. Drizzle with the olive oil, sprinkle with 1/2 tsp salt and the red pepper flakes (if using), and toss everything together. Roast the sweet potatoes, stirring a couple of times, until tender and browned, about 45 minutes. Set aside.
Meanwhile, in a large skillet over medium-high heat, cook the pancetta, stirring, until the fat is rendered and the pancetta is crisp, 5 to 10 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the pancetta to a bowl and set aside.
Add the sliced onion to the skillet (add a little olive oil if there’s not enough fat in the pan – it will depend on how much fat is in the pancetta, so trust your instincts here). Turn the heat to medium-low and cook the onion, stirring now and then, until the onion has collapsed and is very soft and browned in spots, about 45 minutes. Stir in the brown sugar and vinegar and cook until the liquid has evaporated, about 5 minutes. Season to taste with salt.
Add the reserved pancetta and sweet potatoes to the skillet and stir everything together.