To transform a dish from holiday indulgence to healthy enough for everyday, I weed out the high-fat, high-calorie ingredients one by one until my husband, Andrew, sneers the word “dietetic” and asks about dessert before the dinner dishes hit the sink.
An unexpected thing happened when I whittled out the cream, then the butter, then the brown sugar from the Barefoot Contessa’s Smashed Sweet Potatoes with Apples: I heard nothing but, “Pass the sweet potatoes, please.” In hindsight I understood my husband’s contentedness. Butter, cream, and sugar gussy up sweet potatoes and apples, two things we routinely eat unadorned.
The original Barefoot Contessa recipe, one of my family’s Thanksgiving favorites, is delicious and luxuriously textured with all the cream and butter and sugar. Slashing the fat and calories in this dish, however, doesn’t devastate the flavor the way similar cuts would in a chocolate chip cookie or birthday cake. My healthy, everyday version of Spiced Sweet Potatoes and Apples has even earned a place at our Thanksgiving table, partly because it allows me to budget more calories for stuffing.
Use high quality ingredients to maintain the flavor and texture lost without the butter and cream. Purchase richly flavored garnet yams if you can find them. Seek out the freshest, crispest apples you can find; without the butter and sugar you’ll notice a mealy texture even more than usual. Use freshly grated or very high quality cinnamon and nutmeg. Invest in a fruity, small-batch olive oil, like Stonehouse’s House Olive Oil.
Bec makes this dish even more nutritious by including the fiber-rich apple skins. The skins add beautiful color to the dish. But they change the texture, adding a chewiness that while not unpleasant, strays too far from my memories of the original.
This year I’ll make this dish a little less nutritious by sprinkling brown sugar over the apples before I add the nuts. There’s a three percent chance one of my kids might try it. If they do, the brown sugar will increase the likelihood of them taking a second bite by 50 percent.
I always make this dish in two or three steps spread over two to three days. I’ve noted in the recipe how I break up the work. The key timing to consider is to bake the sweet potatoes up to 3 days before you plan to serve this dish. —Melissa
Sweet Potatoes and Apples
Time to cook the sweet potatoes: 45 minutes to 1 ½ hours
Time to put the dish together: 20 minutes, plus 20 minutes baking
For the sweet potatoes:
5 pounds garnet yams or sweet potatoes
1 teaspoon cinnamon, freshly grated or high quality
1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1 teaspoon kosher salt
7-8 grinds black pepper
¼ cup good quality fruity olive oil
For the apples:
4 large Granny Smith or other tart apples (about 1 ¼ pounds)
1 tablespoon lemon juice
½ teaspoon cinnamon, freshly grated or high quality
½ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/3 cup hazelnuts, halved
Bake the sweet potatoes:
Set the oven to 375° F. Scrub sweet potatoes, and poke holes all over each one with a pairing knife. Set sweet potatoes on a sheet tray and put the tray in the oven. Don’t wait for the oven to heat up to 375° F; let the oven heat up with the sweet potatoes inside. Bake until very soft, 45 minutes for small potatoes (hot dog-sized), up to 1 ½ hours for large ones (burrito-sized).
At this point you can continue with the recipe or store the sweet potatoes in the refrigerator for up to three days before serving the dish.
Mix the sweet potatoes and spices:
Cut each sweet potato in half horizontally and scoop out the insides, taking care not to include any bits of skin or the fibrous layer right under it. Put sweet potatoes into the bowl of an electric mixer or other mixing bowl. Discard the skin and fibrous bits.
Add the cinnamon, nutmeg, sea salt, black pepper, and oil to the sweet potatoes. Whip the potatoes with a stand (or handheld) electric mixer on medium high until the texture looks smooth and fluffy. This takes about a minute in a stand mixer. If you don’t have an electric mixer, stir the mixture forcefully with a wooden spoon until it appears smooth.
Transfer the spiced sweet potatoes to an 8” x 8” glass or ceramic serving dish. Smooth the potatoes with a spatula to create a flat surface.
At this point you can continue with the recipe or store the sweet potatoes in the dish, covered.
Prepare the apples, and bake:
Preheat the oven to 350° F.
Peel the apples, if you like, then cut them into half-inch half-moon-shaped slices. I do this by cutting the apples with an apple slicer, then halving each slice.
In a large frying pan, toss the apples with the lemon juice, ½ teaspoon cinnamon, ½ teaspoon nutmeg, and 1 tablespoon water. Combine well, using your hands to distribute the spices evenly among the apples. Set the pan over medium high heat, stirring gently with a rubber spatula for 4 minutes to soften the apples.
Add the apples to the sweet potatoes, either lining them up in three tight rows or scattering them in a single layer. (If they don’t all fit, use the extra for a snack either as is or topped with granola and yogurt.) Sprinkle the hazelnuts over the apples.
Bake to warm the sweet potatoes, 20 minutes.