Peeling the Onion- Layer 4: Sweet Potatoes

The weather has taken a turn here in So Cal.  Last week Spring. This week winter. Winter in Los Angeles means rain and that is just what we have.

So Layer 4 in this mini-series is reflecting the damp and chill. I am using the last of my cipollines in the closest way I can to that of the traditional soffritto I mentioned way back at the beginning of sweeps-week.

In case you forgot, skipped over it with a big yawn, or are too lazy to drag down and re-read the post. I’ll paraphrase here.

Soffritto is an amazingly complex, labor-intensive “building block” of flavor. Basically, it is a bunch of slowly caramelized onions that are then “re-fried” with tomato pulp.

I attempted to recreate the value of this condiment in an easier way by roasting a pile of cipollini onions with whole garlic cloves and using them as building blocks in a series of recipes. This mini-series was my “sweeps-wee” answer at blatant self-promotion. It was a stroke of genius. This time next year and Super Bowl will be taking out ads on SippitySup! Woo-Hoo!


In today’s recipe, I really am using my cipollines as a backbone ingredient similar to how soffritto is most often used. They will add a ton of flavor and even define this recipe, but they will do it in a quiet, almost sub-conscience way. You will think these are the best sweet potatoes EVER, but you might not know why! Pull this recipe out at Thanksgiving and people really will be giving thanks… I know I would.

So, in honor of the last cold weather, I will tolerate this winter, I bring you French Onion Sweet Potatoes. I call them French Onion because I am borrowing a method of cooking these onions similar to a traditional French Onion Soup.

I am going to take the last 2 pounds of my roasted cipollines and chop them up roughly. And though they are soft and rich and luscious all on their own, I am going amp these qualities by further caramelizing them in a whole stick of melted butter, and about a tablespoon of kosher salt. I will then flavor inject them with Marsala wine.

I cannot stress enough to you that this needs to be a long, slow process. You need to be very attentive to your pan. They will take lots of stirring over low heat. Two pounds will take about an hour to caramelize properly.

Once the onions have given up most of their liquid, they will begin to break down and get a bit pasty in texture. This is the time to add about 1/2 cup sweet Marsala wine to the pan. Use a wooden spoon to scrape the bottom of the pan and break loose all the little bits that might be stuck down there. This is called deglazing. I know you know this. But I just wanted to prove that I did too!

Keep your eyes and mind glued to that pan and continue cooking and stirring until the pan is nearly dry again and the onions are quite sticky.

Add another 1/2 cup of Marsala and repeat the whole process. This is also a good time to practice the Zen technique of being completely present at the moment. Because this moment can drag on for quite some time and you might as well learn how to cope with the boredom.

But if you can connect to that inner peaceful place you can learn to enjoy this French Onion process because it will yield a mass (about 2 cups) of brilliantly flavorful onions.

While you are busy “becoming one” with your onions, you should be roasting about two or three pounds of sweet potatoes in a 400 degree F oven. This will also take about an hour; so get them in the oven first thing.

When the potatoes are cooked and quite soft (all the way through) place them on a rack to cool. Put the rack over a baking dish because the potatoes tend to drip sweet, sticky, syrup that is a bear to clean off counters once it has dried.

As soon as the potatoes are almost cool enough to handle peel the skins off of them. If you do this while they are still quite hot it is an easy job. But be careful, that hot potato game is based on fact and you will need un-blistered fingers to finish this recipe!

Put the peeled potato into a mixing bowl along with 1 cup chicken stock, 1 cup grated Parmesan cheese, 2 tablespoons butter, about 3/4 of your French Onion onions, and some black pepper.

Mix these all together very well. You may use a wooden spoon to get a rustic texture with bits of onions mingled throughout the potatoes. Or you may use an immersion blender or hand mixer for a more whipped texture. I can’t decide which version I prefer. So you decide for yourself.

If you have worked quickly the potatoes should still be hot and ready to serve. But they also make ahead very nicely and may be re-warmed in the oven.

Either way, adjust your seasoning before serving and use the last of the onions as a garnish along with a bit more parmesan. I mean why not right? We are MEN we can handle it (and I mean “men” in that gender-neutral way mentioned in the U.S. Constitution).

Besides, I almost said drizzle with a little melted butter. Then you really would have had something to say to me… I just know it!

Because these potatoes are seemingly that rich and decadent. They are so deeply flavored and are quite easily the BEST sweet potatoes I have ever eaten.

Like this story? Then say it: Gustoso!

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Greg Henry