Savory Sweet Potato Flans with Arugula Salad

If you’re like me, you’ll probably include sweet potatoes as part of your Thanksgiving menu.  But, you don’t have to turn to those predictable preparations of baked sweet potatoes topped with marshmallows, or serve them mashed and seasoned with spices. There are far more exciting ways to use this versatile tuber.

This year I’m making Savory Sweet Potato Flans with an Arugula Salad the first course for our big feast. Sweet potatoes are cooked, then mixed with cream cheese to give them a silken texture. Next, they’re combined with a savory custard of eggs, cream, and spices, then poured into ramekins. Baked in a water bath until set, these colorful little orange-hued flans are unmolded, then served garnished with a small arugula salad tossed in an orange vinaigrette. A sprinkle of toasted pecans or hazelnuts provides a bit of crunch.

Visually stunning, these custards will get your Turkey Day meal off to an impressive start. They’re easy to assemble and inexpensive, but here’s the best part: they can be baked up to two days ahead and then, at serving time, quickly reheated in the oven for a few minutes.

3/4 pound sweet whole unpeeled whole red-skinned sweet potato (yams)
4 ounces (1/2 cup) cream cheese, at room temperature and broken into small chunks
2 large eggs plus 1 large egg yolk
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt plus more if needed
Generous 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
Scant 1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
Pinch ground allspice
Pinch cinnamon
Pinch cloves
Non stick cooking spray

Greens salad
1 1/2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 1/2 tablespoons fresh orange juice
1 teaspoon grated orange zest
Scant 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup olive oil
6 cups loosely packed arugula (about 5 ounces)
1/2 cup hazelnuts or pecans, toasted, salted, and coarsely chopped (see note)

1. Arrange a rack at center position and preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Spray 6 one-half cup ramekins or custard cups with nonstick spray. Then line the bottoms of each ramekin with parchment paper cut to fit the bottoms and spray the papers. Place the ramekins in a large baking pan. (A 9- by 13-inch pyrex pan works well.)

2. Cook the sweet potato in a medium pot of boiling water to cover until tender when pierced with a knife, about 35 minutes or more. Or cook it in the microwave: pierce the skin of the potato with a fork and place it on paper towels. Then microwave until tender, usually about 6 minutes. Remove and cool until you can handle it easily.

3. Remove and discard the skin and then mash the potato until very smooth or even better put it through a potato ricer if you have one.

4. In a large mixing bowl, whisk eggs until well blended. Whisk in heavy cream, salt, cayenne pepper, nutmeg, allspice, cinnamon, and cloves.

5. Place the cream cheese and the mashed sweet potato in the bowl of an electric mixer, and mix on medium speed, until blended well, about 2 minutes. Gradually, on low speed, pour in the egg/cream mixture and beat just until blended. Strain the sweet potato mixture in a sieve set over a large bowl. Press down on the mixture with a rubber spatula and scrape any of the mixture from the bottom of the sieve. (This will make the flan extra smooth by removing any small bits.) Divide the sweet potato mixture evenly among the ramekins. Add enough hot water to the baking pan to come half way up the sides of the ramekins.

6. Place in oven and bake flans until set, 18 to 20 minutes. Watch carefully and check after 18 minutes. (Flans can be prepared 1 day ahead; cool, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate. Reheat on a baking sheet in a preheated 350 degree F oven until heated through, 10 to 15 minutes.)

7. To prepare the vinaigrette, whisk together the vinegar, orange juice and zest, salt, and several grinds of black pepper in a nonreactive bowl. Whisk in the oil. (Vinaigrette can be prepared 1 day ahead; cover and refrigerate. Bring to room temperature and whisk well before using.)

8. When ready to assemble, loosen the edges of the flans with a small sharp knife. Then invert flans and remove and discard paper. Place one flan on each of 6 salad plates. Toss the arugula with enough vinaigrette to coat lightly (you will have some left over.) Surround each flan with some salad and sprinkle some hazelnuts or pecans over both the greens and the flans. Serves 6.

© Copyright Betty Rosbottom 2011

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