Much as I love mashed white potatoes, my favourite "potato" is the sweet variety.
I've been cooking and eating sweet potatoes as long as I can remember. And when I found out that they were loaded with vitamins and other good-for-you stuff like fiber, I immediately thought... Here's a great excuse to eat sweet potato pie!
Kidding aside, sweet potatoes are just as good if not better than traditional baking potatoes in savory applications. My favourite one-bowl meal in winter is a loaded baked potato. And I often make it with sweet potatoes.
Around 5 p.m., I throw the potatoes in a 350 F oven. I find that a lower oven temperature keeps the skin from falling apart, allowing you to split the potato in half and load it up! However, it does take twice as long for the potatoes to cook.
This year, I have been topping my potato with sauteed kale, which not only looks stunning — all that orange and green — but also is a perfect complement to the sweet "meaty" potato.
But that's not all. I also roast garlic and make it into a paste to flavour the potato, folding in just a touch of butter and a pinch of sage. I scoop out half of the potato, mix it all together, add half the cheese and put it back into the shells like you would a twice-baked potato. At this point, the recipe can be made in advance and re-heated another day.
Just before serving, you sprinkle on more cheese, add a healthy spoonful of the sauteed kale and, if you like, top with toasted pumpkin seeds for a welcome crunch. If you don't like kale, you can saute spinach instead. And while I have specified fontina and Gruyere for the cheeses, Parmesan, cheddar and mozzarella are great, too.
I generally make this loaded potato a "meatless meal," but you could easily add leftover or rotisserie chicken.
LOADED SWEET POTATOES WITH ROASTED GARLIC
If you want to get a jump on things, the garlic can be roasted and mixed with the butter and salt up to 2 days in advance. Just refrigerate until needed.
Start to finish: 1 1/2 hours (45 minutes active)
3 heads garlic
4 large sweet potatoes
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
Pinch dried sage
1 large shallot, chopped
1 bunch (about 5 ounces) baby or chopped Tuscan kale
1/2 cup grated fontina cheese
Ground black pepper, to taste
1/2 to 1 cup shredded white cheddar, Gruyere or mozzarella cheese
3 tablespoons toasted pumpkin seeds (optional)
Roasted chicken (optional)
Heat the oven to 400 F.
Remove the outer layer of papery skin from the heads of garlic. Slice off 1/4 inch from the narrow end of each. Place each head of garlic, cut side up, on a square of heavy-duty foil. Drizzle each with olive oil, then sprinkle with salt. Wrap the foil loosely up and over the garlic heads, then roast for 1 hour, or until golden-brown and soft. Remove and let cool.
Meanwhile, prick the sweet potatoes with a fork, then rub them with oil. Add them to the oven and bake for 50 to 60 minutes, or until tender.
Once the garlic has cooled enough to handle, remove the cloves from their skins. The most efficient way to do this is to squeeze the whole head from the bottom. In a small food processor, combine the garlic, butter, sage and a pinch of salt, then pulse until chopped and combined. Set aside.
About 15 minutes before the potatoes have finished, in a medium saute pan over medium-high, heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Add the shallot and saute until soft, about 4 minutes. Add the kale, and saute for a few minutes, stirring constantly, until tender. Set aside.
When the potatoes have finished baking, remove them from the oven and let them cool until easy to touch. Leave the oven on. Cut the potatoes lengthwise down the middle and scoop out about half of the flesh from each, making sure to keep a thick layer of sweet potato within the skin so that it can stand on its own.
In a bowl, mash the sweet potato, the roasted garlic mixture and the fontina cheese. Season with salt and pepper. Divide the filling between each potato, spooning it into the shell of each. Top with your choice of shredded cheese and the hot sauteed kale.
Arrange the potatoes on a baking sheet and return to the oven until hot, about 15 minutes. They also can be microwaved for 2 minutes. Serve hot, garnished with pumpkin seeds and chicken, if desired.
Nutrition information per serving (not including optional chicken and pumpkin seeds): 230 calories; 120 calories from fat (52 per cent of total calories); 13 g fat (6 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 30 mg cholesterol; 20 g carbohydrate; 3 g fiber; 5 g sugar; 8 g protein; 270 mg sodium.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Elizabeth Karmel is a grilling and Southern foods expert and executive chef at Hill Country Barbecue Market restaurants in New York and Washington, as well as Hill Country Chicken in New York. She is the author of three cookbooks, including "Soaked, Slathered and Seasoned."