I am no “Fiddler on the Roof” but as much as anyone, I enjoy tradition.  However, from the first taste of gravy to the last crumb of pumpkin pie, the tradition of sharing food with family and friends during Thanksgiving is often confined to duplicating the same recipes year after year.  For many, this is not a time to change the dressing recipe, deep fry a turkey or make a sour apple cake in exchange for what you “always” have.  Most hosts do not want to hear “What did you do to the gravy?” unless of course it is because you learned to make it with no lumps.  But traditions can always be improved upon, and new traditions can also be added.  I like to complement rather than compete with tradition.

To help improve or just fine-tune your traditional Thanksgiving fare, I will be re-posting my Thanksgiving blogs with tips for cooking turkeys to perfection, making great gravy and more, on Hemmachef.com in the coming week.  Feel free to post your Thanksgiving-related (or other) questions on my BadgerChefTalk blog page.  I will try to answer them as quickly as possible.

And here is one recipe I will be adding to my Thanksgiving repertoire–a friendly cousin joining the mashed sweet potatoes prepared with maple syrup (and no marshmallows).  This new recipe can be made ahead of time, making it a welcome addition if only for that fact.  I just recently used this recipe for Roasted Sweet Potatoes with Bell Peppers, Goat Cheese and Spinach in the two Holiday Side Dish classes I taught last month at the McLean Community Center in McLean, Virginia (just south of Washington, DC, where I have been teaching for over 25 years.  Registration is open now for my March classes).  Not only was it a big hit in class, but the leftovers were also amazing.  I gently rewarmed them with a little extra virgin olive oil in a covered non-stick frying pan until just warmed.  The spinach continued to wilt but that was fine, and the goat cheese just got creamier.  I didn’t stir it much because I wanted to keep the dollops of goat cheese intact.

The recipe below is fairly simple, and here are some tips to help make it amazing:

  • Try to cut the sweet potatoes into same-size cubes so that they cook at the same rate. Do the same when dicing the red pepper. Cubes are about a half-inch square and dice is about a quarter-inch square.
  • To paste garlic, first chop it relatively small, sprinkle a little salt on it (I use kosher salt), then take the tip of your chef’s knife and smash the little pieces of garlic into a paste. I do one piece of garlic at a time, pulling the knife over the ones I have already started to paste when I do the others. The salt acts as an abrasive when you are squishing the small pieces of garlic with your knife.  Alternately, you could use a garlic press or a mortar and pestle, but then you just have more to clean.
  • Grating onion ensures you get the flavor but don’t bite into chunks of raw onion, as the goat cheese mixture is not cooked.
  • The easiest way to do the spinach is to use baby spinach, but I must say that full-grown spinach (sold as a bunch) is better-tasting, has better texture and builds more volume on the plates or platter. I would recommend getting rid of the big stems, tearing the leaves into bite-sized pieces, and washing it.
  • To make this dish ahead of time, but also make it as delicious as possible, I would recommend doing 3 steps ahead of time and then assembling it when you are ready to serve it. The 3 do-ahead steps are: prepping the spinach as needed, creaming the goat cheese mixture, and prepping and roasting the sweet potatoes and red peppers.
  • When serving it at room temperature, I like to have it cool from warm to room temperature, rather than let it rise from cold (refrigerator) to room temperature. This helps to develop better flavor. When it comes time to serve it, warm the potatoes in a pan or microwave, place them on top of the spinach and do the dolloping.

I hope you enjoy this as much as I have and our guests will this holiday season.  The bright red peppers, deep green spinach and rich golden sweet potatoes along with the cumulus dollops of delicately-flavored goat cheese makes for a most beautiful presentation.

Roasted Sweet Potatoes with Bell Peppers, Goat Cheese and Spinach

2 lbs. sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into cubes
1 red pepper, seeded and diced
¼ cup olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
4 ounces goat cheese, room temperature
2 cloves garlic, pasted
1 tablespoon grated yellow onion
6 cups spinach, washed and torn as needed

Method:  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Place the sweet potato cubes and diced red pepper in a bowl and add the olive oil.  Season with salt and pepper.  Place mixture on a parchment-lined sheet tray and bake 20-30 minutes until the sweet potatoes have browned a bit and the peppers have softened. Meanwhile, combine the goat cheese, pasted garlic and grated onion in a bowl.  Mix well and season a bit with salt and pepper.  Place the spinach on a platter or plates. Top with hot potatoes and peppers and dollop with the goat cheese mixture.  Serve warm or at room temperature.