Violet sweet potatoes fuel a purple passion
Last fall at the North Carolina State Fair, I visited for a spell with a farmer who goes by the name Pa Tater. He showed me some purple sweet potatoes and told me about their antioxidant properties.
So coveted are they, Pa Tater said, that the relatively small crop of them sells out in a weekend at local Whole Foods markets and "the kind of restaurants that have chefs." (Stokes Purple ones are grown mostly in just four counties, but, all told, the state provides 40 percent of the nation's sweet potatoes.)
My lust for purple sweet potatoes was great, but they were only on display. The man glanced around a little furtively and slipped me one to put in my bag. When I baked it, it was just as tasty as those of other colors.
I had known orange sweet potatoes, often confused with the botanically unrelated yams, and sweet potatoes with creamy, pale flesh, sweet as candy. I seek out garnet-red sweet potatoes. But I had not encountered Stokes Purples.
On Long Island, only about 10 acres are planted in sweet potatoes, and, to her knowledge, there are no purple ones - yet, said Sandy Menasha, vegetable and potato specialist for Cornell Cooperative Extension in Riverhead. She is intrigued by purple potatoes. Menasha added that smaller growers and CSAs (Community Supported Agriculture farms) are adding sweet potatoes to their crops, and consumption of locally grown ones is going up.
Stokes Purple are firm, gorgeous to behold and not the least bit stringy.
Incorporated into side dishes, main dishes or desserts, the purple sweet potato has an elegant flair. Still, my favorite way to eat it is the same as for its kin, baked and buttered and tasting mostly like itself.
PURPLE SWEET POTATO MOUSSE
This recipe is slightly adapted from one provided by the Foothill Sweet Potato Alliance of North Carolina.
1 1/2 cups heavy cream, divided
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
5 egg yolks
3 purple (or other) sweet potatoes, cooked, peeled and pureed
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg, preferably freshly grated
1/8 teaspoon ground allspice, optional
1/4 teaspoon salt
1. Combine 3/4 cup cream, sugar and egg yolks in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Whisk constantly until thick, about 8 or 9 minutes. Stir in sweet potatoes, vanilla, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, allspice if using, and salt. Remove from heat and transfer to bowl. Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.
2. Whip remaining 3/4 cup of cream with an electric mixer until stiff peaks form. Fold cream into the chilled sweet potato mixture. Cover and refrigerate at least 4hours or overnight. (If desired, the mousse may be poured into a mold or into individual custard dishes.) Makes 10 servings.