Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Sweet, Sweet Potatoes

My older brother is the kind of person who is very regimented and maybe just a little bit obsessive about being really good at everything he does. This is most likely the reason he likes working out so much. For him, it is weightlifting that gives him a constant drive towards a desired outcome. And we all know that with workout routines come organized schedules and meal plans. 

Pretty frequently my brother comes to spend the weekend at home, and almost always there is cooking involved. I now associate his visits, strangely enough, with the aromas of chicken, rice, and sweet potatoes-the main components of his diet- wafting through the house. While I can do without the chicken, I love sweet potatoes. In fact, I am always just a little jealous when he wraps up the freshly baked sweet potatoes and takes them all for himself. Of course I can easily make them for myself, but for some reason I have often felt obligated in some way to make recipes that are more complex. I really don't know what I have had against simple cooking. 

That being said, I realize that simple cooking is wonderful. In fact I think it may be even more satisfying to create a tasty meal requiring little preparation. And when I came across these burgundy skinned potatoes with their creamy flesh, I knew I had to keep it simple as a way to honor the ingredient. 

Simply stick the potatoes in the oven to let them become more rich, and sweet, and earthy. And as they transform, create a delicious fresh, bright, slightly spicy pesto to spread on top of the warm potatoes when they pop out of the oven along with some airy, light, ricotta. It makes a perfect main course of a meal. 

Jalapeno Pecan Pesto
yields about 1 cup

1/2 cup grated Parmesan
2 cups chopped parsley
2 cloves garlic
1/4 cup chopped pecans
2/3 cup olive oil
salt and pepper
juice of half a lemon
2-3 jalapenos, seeded and chopped

1. Place the grated Parmesan in the bowl of a food processor and pulse to create a sort of Parmesan "powder”. Remove and transfer to a small bowl.
2. Place the parsley, garlic cloves, and pecans in the food processor and pulse until coarsely chopped. Pour in 1/2 cup of the olive oil and pulse until smooth. Season with salt and pepper, then pulse in the lemon juice and the jalapenos one at a time until desired heat.
3. Remove pesto from food processor and transfer to a bowl. Stir in Parmesan and, if needed, stir in remaining olive oil.

Sweet Potatoes with Pesto and Ricotta
serves 4

4 Japanese purple sweet potatoes or regular sweet potatoes
Fresh ricotta
Jalapeno pecan pesto

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Wash the potatoes and prick them all over with a fork. Set them directly on the middle rack of the oven and roast for about an hour, rotating occasionally, until soft to the touch. (You can place a cookie sheet on the bottom rack of your oven so that the potato juices do not leak onto the bottom of your oven).
2. While the potatoes are cooking, make the pesto.
3. When the potatoes are cooled a bit, slit them down the center. Fluff up the insides with a fork, then top with a dollop of ricotta and a good amount of pesto. Enjoy! 

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