Like many foods I adore, the sweet potato came to me only as an adult. I never had a holiday meal in which yams were present as a kid. But there's something about this little tuber that I can't deny. Perhaps it is the orange coloration. Perhaps the way it melts on the tongue when combined with butter and cinnamon. Or that it makes one hell of a french fry.
In the midst of December's Devil-may-care month of the Northern American continent, Art discovered a southern food recipe blog with some good ideas. Here was a casserole that required fair amounts of squash and yams, and would you imagine: we have a crap-ton of both, particularly that bushel of squash from the orchard. So Art made it. And it was heavenly. He thought it was a delightful twist to the usual sweetened yams. I thought it was delightfully similar in taste to my beloved pumpkin pie. Even the seven-year-old had to agree: this orangish goop with the crunchy topping, it works. Art made it several more times over the month, and then, in a flash of inspiration--I decided to have a go at it for Christmas dinner at my parent's house.
Praline Butternut Squash and Sweet Potato Casserole
Adjusted from the Kitchen of Deep South Dish
1 butternut squash
3 large sweet potatoes
1/2 cup sugar
2 tablespoons vanilla
3 eggs, beaten
Approximately 1/2 cup of milk
1/3 cup unsalted butter, melted
1 cup packed light brown sugar
1/3 cup unbleached all purpose or wheat flour
1 cup finely chopped pecans (I beat the heck out of them with a meat tenderizer)
1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees to roast the squash. Slice the butternut squash in half, scoop out the seeds and fibers, and rinse. Place the squash on a cookie sheet covered in tin foil. Rub butter on the fleshy side and cook face-down until you can pierce straight through with a fork, about an hour.
2. Boil water in a large pan. Peel the sweet potatoes. You can quarter them if you have the strength and a very sharp knife but be careful not to cut your thumbs off. In fear of losing an appendage? Just toss them in the water whole. It takes a little longer to cook but you don't have that messy hospital bill to worry about. Boil until fork goes through easily.
3. When you are ready to make the casserole, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 2 quart casserole dish with non-stick cooking spray. Scoop the flesh out of the squash with an ice cream scoop and add it and the sweet potatoes into a mixing bowl. Mix until smooth; add in the sugar, allspice, cinnamon, vanilla and eggs. Blend well and add just enough milk to moisten (I don't think we've ever needed the milk). Pour the thick mix into the casserole dish.
4. Now, on to the praline topping. Melt the butter. While it melts, mix brown sugar, flour and pecans in a small bowl. Pour the butter into the brown sugar mixture and stir. Sprinkle over the top of the casserole. Bake 45 minutes - 1 hour.
Of course, my Christmas version did not taste as good as when Art did it in Cleveland. The reason: the Deep Dish informs readers that the topping ingredients are for a double batch, so I halved everything for the topping. Art did not and I never will again. Even after I added the extra brown sugar to the top, though, it didn't taste quite right. I blame the fact that my mom's casserole dish is deep and round, while ours is shallow and oval. The ratio of topping to veggies just seems better in a shallower dish. Overall, though, a definite keeper. As my son said, "I could have squash every night!"
How about that.