Sweet dreams are made of this
Whether roasted, baked or in a soup, sweet potatoes are sure to make you smile, says Diana Henry
Sweet potatoes are, in my mind, potatoes of the sun. Halve one lengthways and you’re left with two orange smiles that make you think of heat and exotic destinations: the Caribbean, South America. They’re cheering because they’re such great rescuers. When I’ve nothing planned for dinner, I’m relieved to find them in the vegetable drawer. They’re a regular Sunday supper in my house, the smell of their caramelised juices ( bronze droplets of sugar gather at the pointed ends during baking) mixing with the scent of drying school uniforms – a balm for Sunday-night blues.
They bake in less than half the time it takes to cook a regular potato, and their sweet flesh gives you something to play off. I fill their melting insides with chopped feta, olives and coriander; salty, smoky chorizo and beefy fried mushrooms; goat’s cheese and hazelnuts and, the most basic adornment, Greek yogurt and spring onions. They’re perfect for soup, too, cooking more quickly than carrots, but with almost as much sweetness. Their starchiness produces a velvety potful.
I often use sweet potatoes as a substitute for pumpkin, though the flavour is slightly different; sweet potatoes are quite chestnutty. Before pumpkins were so ubiquitous I filled tortelloni with sweet-potato purée and tossed roasted chunks with tagliatelle, ricotta and shavings of smoked cheese.
There are hundreds of varieties of sweet potato but they’re never labelled in this country. You can always ask, if buying from the greengrocer’s, what they’re like on the inside. In (Chronicle Books, £25), author Diane Morgan explains that the two basic types of sweet potato (sweet and moist, and drier and firmer) co-exist, but that they’re both quite different from yams (sweet potatoes might look like African yams but are unrelated).
Many cooks add honey or maple syrup to sweet potatoes. I admit to roasting wedges tossed in a mixture of honey and lots of lime (to cut the sweetness), but really they don’t need sugar. I am an unashamed fan of American food but please, not baked sweet potatoes smothered in marshmallows. For sweet potatoes bring me all the salty things.
Join Diana at an exclusive Telegraph Dining Experience at Aster restaurant, London, on 22 March: enjoy a drinks reception, five-course menu designed to excite each of your senses, and Q&A with executive chef Helena Puolakka. Find out more at telegraph.co.uk/ diningexperience or call 0800 542 5859