There are certain vegetables that I bring home and have a stare-off with for a while before cooking them.
I think sweet potatoes top the list, partly because they will last forever, so the staring contest can go on for quite some time. And partly because they have eyes. Oh, yes, you are right, I am so funny.
While I love sweet potatoes simply mashed with some butter and milk and not much else, that can be boring.
Then, because of the naturally sweet nature of these potatoes, the tendency is to go for seasonings and flavors that underscore or amplify the sweetness. But that gets predictable as well.
Anyway, in my quest for different, for savory, and for not a lot of extra thinking, I picked roasted garlic as the newest uncomplicated addition to sweet potatoes. I'm fairly certain this recipe is going to wiggle its way into the regular rotation. Start with about 8 cloves of the roasted garlic, which will give the dish a nice but not too intense garlicky flavor, and add more if you want a more pronounced hit of garlic.
There are many types of sweet potatoes, and if you are a fan, have at it and get to know the different kinds. The exteriors and interiors range considerably in color, but most common are shades of white, tan and all sorts of oranges.
In this recipe, I tested with an organic sweet potato with a very pale cream interior (kind of the color of Yukon golds). Next time I might look for orange sweet potatoes, since I am a sucker for the color and it makes a holiday table feel like a holiday table to me.
If you haven't ever tried making roasted garlic, just do that today. Start the garlic before you start the potatoes, so the garlic will be roasted when you are ready to mash. It's stupidly, stupidly easy. And such a simple way to change up the flavor of everything from a crostini topping to a sauce to a chicken dish.
If you want a milder garlic flavor in the potatoes, cut back on the number of cloves you mash in.
MASHED SWEET POTATOES WITH ROASTED GARLIC
1 head garlic
2 teaspoons olive oil
Generous pinch salt
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Slice the top off the head of garlic so that the top of the cloves are exposed. (You can do as many of these as you want, at the same time.) Place each head on a square of aluminum foil, drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with salt, and wrap up the cloves well in the foil. Bake for about 45 minutes until the garlic is very soft.
When cool enough to handle, squeeze out the roasted garlic from the papery wrapper, pressing up from the bottom to pop it out.
MASHED SWEET POTATOES:
Coarse or kosher salt to taste
3 pounds sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
3/4 cup whole milk or half and half (or a combo), warmed
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the potatoes, allow the water to return to a simmer. Adjust the heat so the water remains at a simmer, and simmer until the sweet potatoes are soft, about 20 to 25 minutes.
Drain the potatoes. Either return them to the pot with about eight cloves of the garlic, or to taste, and mash with an immersion blender or a potato masher, or put the potatoes through a ricer or food mill with the desired amount of garlic, doing this so the riced potatoes fall back into the pot. Add the olive oil, butter, milk, salt, and pepper, and stir to thoroughly combine. Serve hot.