Sweet potato spoonbread

Any easy side dish that can do double duty as a tasty substitute for pancakes in an uncomplicated brunch.

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I’m a big fan of making (and eating) side breads, as evidenced by the long journey I took to arrive at my sweet corn polenta muffins. This is another favourite: baked in a single, tender loaf and softer than the muffins (so, delightfully, spoonbread), flavoured with sweet potato.

It’s delicious served traditionally alongside grilled or barbecued meats, though I have to tell you that it also often appears as a brunch dish in my kitchen, and by brunch I mean “late, lazy weekend breakfast”. On those occasions, the grilled meat is bacon and the condiment is maple syrup – all the fun of pancakes without the pancake-making. Tastier, too.

I call for half a cup of cooked sweet potato flesh in the recipe, but don’t fire up the oven especially for that job. Once roasted – or microwaved or steamed – it will keep happily in the fridge, wrapped in foil or an airtight container, for up to 3 days, so you can do it any time you have the oven on for another reason and stash it away until required. Once in hand, the rest of the procedure is perfectly straightforward, a single gesture from processor to oven to mouth.

I use polenta – not the instant-cooking kind – because it’s what I keep in my pantry. US readers, especially, will find yellow cornmeal easier to find or have at hand; the two are almost indistinguishable (different names for the same thing, really) and serve the same purpose here.

This makes enough for 4 people as a side dish (though, in practice, there are no leftovers if there are just two of us – it’s irresistible). If you’re scaling up for a crowd, or cooking at a different temperature because you’re cooking it along with something else, simply bake it long enough for the top to become lightly coloured and let it sit out of the oven for 10 minutes, where it will set further.


Sweet potato spoonbread

 

For 4 as a side dish, or 2 for brunch.

25g (1 oz) unsalted butter
125g (½ cup) sweet potato
50g (2 oz) cheddar cheese
1 large spring onion (scallion), or a couple of thin ones
1 egg
85g (½ cup) polenta or yellow cornmeal
½ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon sea salt flakes
⅛ teaspoon (pinch) nutmeg
250ml (1 cup) milk
butter to prepare the dish

To cook the sweet potato, you can either roast a single unpeeled chunk (about 150g, to account for the skin), pricked all over with a fork, in a 200°C (400°F) oven for an hour, or microwave peeled chunks on full power for 10 minutes, or steam peeled chunks for 15–20 minutes until tender. Which ever way you choose, scoop out and mash ½ cup of the flesh and set aside.

To make the spoonbread, set your oven to 220°C (425°F) and butter a small baking dish that can hold 2 cups. Melt the butter in a small saucepan or the microwave (I use two half-power 30-second bursts, with a short break between them) and set aside to cool a little.

Chop the cheese and spring onion into rough chunks and place in the bowl of a food processor. Add the sweet potato and egg and blitz until finely chopped.

Add the polenta (or cornmeal), baking powder, salt and nutmeg. Pulse until well combined.

Add the milk and melted butter – through the funnel with the motor running, if your processor allows that – and mix well.

Pour the mixture into your prepared baking dish and bake for 25 minutes until risen slightly, set on top and lightly coloured. Remove from the oven and let it sit for 10 minutes, setting further, before serving.