If there’s a holiday that makes me feel warm and happy and nostalgic, it’s Thanksgiving. I feel about Thanksgiving the way that most people reserve for Christmas. Some of my happiest childhood memories revolve around Thanksgiving. Because of the food, yes. And because of big parties with family and friends, of course. But mostly, I really love Thanksgiving because of the time that I get to spend with my dad in the kitchen, helping him cook.
Around here, I often drag out family recipes and call them “mom’s recipe” or often, “grandma’s recipe”. You won’t often hear me call something my dad’s recipe. My dad never really cooked us meals on a regular basis. Ok, never. Except on Thanksgiving. He cooked the turkey, the gravy, the stuffing, the mashed potatoes, the green bean casserole, all of it. Except for the cranberry relish. My grandma made that. But that’s a whole other story.
And he let me help him. He put me in charge of certain things, showed me how to get things just right, and most importantly, let me in on the “secret ingredient” of his sweet potatoes. (Even though I’m fairly certain that the secret ingredient changed each year and wasn’t necessarily a secret.) But it made me feel special, which I’m guessing was the whole point. My dad and I didn’t have a whole bunch of stuff we did together growing up (he wasn’t into the Backstreet Boys, and I couldn’t summon up quite enough interest in Nebraska football), so spending a day in the kitchen with him is one of my favorite childhood memories. It’s not really about the food or the sweet potatoes, but just about having that special time with my dad.
Which is why I don’t feel too bad about making something a little different in the sweet potato department this Thanksgiving. The sweet potatoes that we made during those all-day cook-a-thons of Thanksgiving past were the classic sweet, syrupy, marshmallow-topped kind. And of course, they’re delicious. Some years the secret ingredient was baking spice sprinkled over the potatoes, sometimes it was a bit of maple syrup drizzled over the top, sometimes a little bit of vanilla extract. Basically: sugar bomb. Like I said, also completely delicious. But when I tried this sweet potato gratin a few months ago, I immediately knew that I wanted to make it for this Thanksgiving.
It’s definitely different from our classic, especially in its simplicity. It’s just sweet potatoes, a bit of cream, and some garlic and spices. Of course, the sweet potatoes are sweet in and of themselves, but this dish lets them be subtly sweet, which works surprisingly well with the savory seasonings. The sage is the perfect fit with the rest of the Thanksgiving classics without being too overpowering. The thin slices of potatoes soak up the cream and become smooth and velvety, without turning to mush. This one is sweet, savory, creamy and bubbly. In short, perfect. And my dad tasted them and approved. So there’s that.
No matter what you’re making to go with your turkey this year (or tofurkey. Or turducken. Or whatever!), I hope you’re spending it with people who you love and cherish, and making lots of happy memories along with your feast!
adapted from Ottolenghi: The Cookbook
- 3 medium-large sweet potatoes, peeled and sliced into 1/8" thick pieces
- 2 tablespoons dried sage (or fresh)
- 3 garlic cloves, minced
- 2 teaspoons sea salt
- 1/2 teaspoons black pepper
- 1 cup whipping cream
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
In a bowl, mix together the potatoes, garlic, sage, salt and pepper. Arrange the slices in an 8x8 oven dish in overlapping rows.
Cover the dish with foil and roast for about 30 minutes.
Remove the foil, pour the cream over the sweet potatoes, and return to the oven, uncovered.
Roast for another 20-30 minutes or until the potatoes are cooked through.