Thanks to the California Farm Water Coalition for sponsoring the farm tour!
Sweet Potato Pinwheels are the star in November’s issue of Direct Magazine’s The Recipe Box! Visiting Alvernaz Farms on tour with the California Farm Water Coalition in Livingston, where fourth generation family farmer Jim Alvernaz grows 100 acres of sweet potatoes, inspired me to use the quintessential fall vegetable in a new and flavorful way.
Jim told us about the different varieties of sweet potatoes, with the “holy grail” being the Diane variety (for tonnage). Its flesh cooks up to a beautiful dark color, but he thinks the Covington (you’ll see it labeled as Jewel in the stores) is more flavorful.
He even had some warm Covingtons waiting for us to taste – with melted butter, they were indeed delicious!
Even though it is expansive, 100 acres is considered relatively small farm. Each acre costs upwards of $8,000 to grow, using seeds obtained from Louisiana (in partnership with the CA Sweet Potato Council). The sweet potatoes grown in Merced use water from Yosemite; Jim explained that today’s drip irrigation techniques mean the plants can be watered 6 days each week for 10 hours each day using less water than ditch irrigation. This is a terrific example of how our farmers adapt to new methods to grow the best crops as efficiently as possible.
During harvest time, work is ongoing for 6 weeks, 6 days/week, 10 hours/day, with a goal of finishing by the end of October. The potatoes must be harvested gently, which is a difficult process. Vine cutters make harvesting much easier – before that they had to be harvested by hand with a serrated blade.
Filled with the classic tastes of fall, Sweet Potato Pinwheels will add pizazz to your Thanksgiving (or game day) menus. Apples, shallots, sweet potatoes and sage combine with nutty Gruyere cheese and boiled (apple) cider – roll them up in buttery puff pastry and you’ve got a savory-sweet appetizer that will delight your family and friends!
Boiled apple cider is the secret to wonderful flavor that perfectly compliments the sweet potatoes. You can purchase it online or in specialty stores, but it’s very easy to make at home – you just need cider, your stove, a large pot and spoon, and a little time in the kitchen. Your efforts will be well worth it – the boiled cider will keep for months in the refrigerator, and spoonfuls added to cocktails, cookie icings, and quick bread or cake batters will really boost the flavors.
There are a few steps to making these but you can do several in advance. Get a head start on prep by boiling the cider, baking sweet potatoes for dinner (set aside enough for this recipe) and making the apple-shallot mixture. Refrigerate until you’re ready to cook…
then it’s just a matter of mixing the sweet potato and cider, spreading it, the apples and shallots, and the cheese onto the puff pastry dough, and rolling.
The rolls will need a little chilling time before you cut them – and speaking of cutting them, the easiest way to do this is to use (unflavored) dental floss. No sawing back and forth or pressing down with a knife, which can get your filling everywhere and destroy the shape of your pinwheels – just a quick, clean cut and they’re ready to bake! (Incidentally, this is also the easiest way to cut cinnamon rolls and sticky buns!)
They don’t take long to bake, and your house will smell amazing – the buttery puff pastry dough mixing with the apples, shallots, sweet potatoes and sage…it will be a challenge to wait for them to cool a little before you savor them!
A few tips: use fresh sweet potatoes – canned sweet potatoes are in syrup, which will be too sweet; feel free to add a couple of tablespoons of chopped bacon, ham or prosciutto for a salty kick that will mix well with the other flavors. For a sweeter option, omit the sage and shallots and add 1-2 tsp. cinnamon or apple pie spice and 1/4 cup dried cranberries or raisins.
Whether you choose sweet or savory, I hope these find their way to your autumn gatherings. Wishing y’all a most beautiful Thanksgiving surrounded by the blessings of family, friends and fabulous food ~ enjoy!
No matter how you say it, grace can transform an ordinary meal into a celebration – of family, love and gratitude. We’re acknowledging that this food didn’t just appear: someone grew it, ground it, bought it, baked it. Wow. ~ Anne Lamott
- For the Boiled Cider:
- 1 half-gallon apple cider - fresh pressed is best but bottled will work ~ spiced cider is great too
- For the Sweet Potato Pinwheels:
- 1 (17.3 oz.) box frozen puff pastry (2 sheets), thawed per package directions
- ⅓ cup mashed sweet potato, at room temperature
- 1 cup finely shredded Gruyere Cheese
- 2 apples, peeled, cored and finely chopped
- 2 shallots, finely chopped
- 2 Tbsp. unsalted butter
- 1 Tbsp. fresh sage (or ¼ tsp. dried)
- 2 Tbsp. boiled apple cider (if you don’t have boiled cider, use 1 Tbsp. frozen apple juice concentrate, thawed)
- 1 tsp. Kosher salt
- ¼ tsp. freshly ground black pepper
- To make the Boiled Cider:
- Place the cider in a large pot and bring to a boil over medium-high heat.
- Lower the heat so the cider is at a good simmer and continue to cook, uncovered, stirring often, until it becomes very thick and coats the back of a spoon (close to the consistency of maple syrup), approximately 50-60 minutes.
- Pour into a glass jar, cool and store in the refrigerator - it will keep for months.
- To make the Sweet Potato Pinwheels:
- Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
- In a sauté pan over medium high heat, melt the butter.
- Add the apples and shallots and sauté until softened and just starting to brown, about 6 minutes.
- Stir in the sage, remove from the heat, and cool to room temperature.
- Add the boiled cider (or juice concentrate), salt and pepper to the mashed sweet potatoes and stir until smooth and well combined.
- On a sheet of parchment, unroll the puff pastry (one sheet at a time), and use a rolling pin to smooth out the dough.
- Spread half the mashed potato mixture over the pastry and top with half the cheese, then half the apple-shallot mixture; an offset spatula makes this easy.
- Working from the long side, roll the sheet into a log, and pinch at the seam to seal.
- Repeat with the second sheet of puff pastry. Wrap each log in plastic wrap or parchment paper and refrigerate for 60 minutes.
- While the logs are chilling, preheat the oven to 375F.
- Cut each log into 12 equal slices and place on the parchment-lined pans, spacing about 2” apart.
- Bake approximately 10 minutes, until lightly browned on the bottom, flip over and bake another 5-7 minutes, until lightly browned on the other side.
- Sprinkle with chopped fresh sage and cool 20 minutes before serving.
- Makes 24 slices.
Tips: use fresh sweet potatoes - canned sweet potatoes are in syrup, which will be too sweet; feel free to add a couple of tablespoons of chopped bacon, ham or prosciutto for a salty kick that will mix well with the other flavors. For a sweeter option, omit the sage and shallots and add 1-2 tsp. cinnamon or apple pie spice and ¼ cup dried cranberries or raisins.
A half-gallon of cider will yield about 1¼ cups of boiled cider.