11.12.13 Side With Me

Dish1 790 xxx
photos by gluttonforlife
The concept of side dishes is sort of an outdated one, left over from a time when the meat took center stage and the satellite vegetables were only supporting players. And though Thanksgiving is allegedly all about the turkey, we know that the side dishes are what's most exciting about the over-hyped meal. Right? If your traditional sides are starting to seem lackluster, or still belong to the Dark Ages of marshmallow fluff and canned fried onions, perhaps you'll let me tempt you with these simple but rather spectacular yams. As I mentioned earlier, they have snuck into our Thanksgiving rotation the past few years and I've heard no complaints. For one thing, they contain crispy bits of pancetta. For another, they are glazed with good olive oil and dark maple syrup and goosed with a nice kick of chile. And, yes, you can make them ahead of time.
Stem 790 xxx
dead end
I like to use garnet yams for this dish, though most any sweet potato will do. These have a dusty burgundy skin with a sort of elephant quality that gives way to a tender, deeply orange flesh.
Slice 790 xxx
live flesh
Garnet yams are plenty sweet, but also very nutritious—a good source of vitamins A and C, niacin, riboflavin and potassium, with some protein and plenty of fiber.
Raw 790 xxx
super chunks
Feel free to fiddle with this recipe, adding less chile or different spices—cumin would be nice, or sage—or more maple syrup, if you like. If you want to make a vegetarian version, just leave out the pancetta, but I would recommend adding another layer of flavor with perhaps some small shallots or whole cloves of garlic.
Cooked 790 xxx
crispy bits
What's key here is to give everything some room so that the edges can get nicely caramelized and the cooking goes relatively quickly. If you crowd the pan too much, things tend to steam and you won't get the wonderful browning that really makes this dish sing.
Dish2 790 xxx
good dish
If you want to make this ahead of time, it will keep in the fridge for a few days. Before serving, you'll need to spread everything out on a tray or roasting pan and give it a blast of high heat to warm everything through quite thoroughly. If oven time is too valuable, you can do this on the stovetop in a large and roomy skillet. And while the dish is good piping hot, it also works at room temp, which is quite convenient.

I made this today so I could share it with you and I plan to toss it with some pasta and greens for tonight's dinner. So if you make this for Thankgiving and there are leftovers, you know what to do with them. How's your menu planning coming along?

Sweet & Spicy Yams

serves 8-10
  • — 4 large garnet yams, about 1 lb each
  • — 6 ounces pancetta (in one chunk, not thin slices)
  • — 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • — 3 tablespoons maple syrup
  • — 3 teaspoons red chile flakes
  • — 3 teaspoons fine sea salt
  • flaky sea salt, for finishing

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Peel yams and cut in 1/2" cubes. Cut pancetta to the same size. Combine yams and pancetta in a large bowl and toss well with remaining ingredients.

Spread this out on a couple of cookie sheets or large roasting pans; it's important that it be in a single layers as this promotes faster cooking and better caramelization.

Roast in the oven for 30-40 minutes, until nicely browned and sizzling, rotating pans and stirring 2-3 times.

Serve hot or at room temperature, finished with a light sprinkling of flaky sea salt.

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Even a vegetarian would have to declare pancetta temporarily a vegetable for this one. I am drooling on the keyboard.
Janet on November 12, 2013 at 5:11 pm —
laura on November 12, 2013 at 5:28 pm —
No planning over here... Yes, those little squares of pancetta look so inviting!
Julia on November 12, 2013 at 6:19 pm —
Too busy blogging away, I guess...
laura on November 12, 2013 at 6:35 pm —
Very timely post! It's funny, I was struck by this dish in your post last week ( at least I think it was last week!), and added it to the Thanksgiving menu I made today. Very happy to see the recipe today. (I thought I would have to wing it!) My other sides this year will be stuffing muffins (a brilliant invention that I highly recommend), sauteed, deconstructed Brussels sprouts with caraway seeds and lemon zest, roasted mushroom and pearl onions, along with whole grain pain au levain made with flax, pumpkin and sunflower seeds that will do double duty at the dinner table and for sandwiches the next day.
Laurie on November 12, 2013 at 6:49 pm —
At first I thought you had actually made your Thanksgiving feast today! Love the deconstructed sprouts and the pearl onions—and the bread!—but must say I'm a fan of the stuffing that cooks in the bird...
laura on November 12, 2013 at 8:07 pm —
This recipe had me in the last post with the description, went out and bought all the ingredients, and was going to wing it without the instructions - I can't wait for Thanksgiving, will being whipping this up this weekend. Thank you !!!
bonnie on November 13, 2013 at 8:00 pm —
hmmm, while maple syrup seems a staple, living in Spain can make it difficult to have in the fridge! This looks so delicious- wondered what you might sub for the syrup?
Gaby on November 26, 2013 at 4:45 am —
Maybe some runny honey? I'm assuming you don't have agave nectar there either. Or even just dark brown sugar. Also, it would be a bit different, but some kind of marmalade or jelly would probably work! You might have to experiment...
laura on November 26, 2013 at 10:27 am —
These converted my yam-hating brother-in-law. The Italian deli in my neighborhood was out of pancetta, so I used regular old diced bacon. Worked like a spicy, salty, sweet charm.
Laurie on December 2, 2013 at 10:12 am —
Yes, it's basically impossible to hate these...
laura on December 2, 2013 at 4:06 pm —
I've made this dish for 3 years now for a "friends-giving", and have received rave reviews every year... Thanks for sharing!!
Matt on November 17, 2015 at 10:00 pm —
Yep, they won't let me take this off the Thanksgiving menu either! Thanks for writing xo
laura on November 17, 2015 at 10:49 pm —