Baked Sweet Potatoes with Crispy Pancetta Veggie Topping

Sweet Potatoes with Crispy Pancetta Veggie Topping

If you’d asked me 20 years ago if I’d ever stop performing on stage, I would’ve said of course not. I was one of those kids who spent afternoons at the dance studio, and auditioned for every production — musicals, plays, whatever — I could. Though I gave up dance lessons by high school, my theatre credits on my college application were long.

When asked what I wanted to do in life, I’d say I wanted to be a writer — and an actress. Both creative endeavors, the two professions seemed to go hand in hand. They fit — a two piece puzzle that came together perfectly in my head. After all, writers write the words actors say and they critique the work actors perform. Actors bring it all to life. Why couldn’t I do both?

It didn’t matter that I couldn’t sing. As much as I loved musical theatre, there are so many wonderful non-musical productions I could perform in — anything by Shakespeare, perhaps a revival of “Machinal,” and definitely “A Streetcar Named Desire.”

I held onto my stage dreams through college, taking classes on theater criticism and whatever dramatic literature courses I could fit in. But I stopped auditioning. I left the acting to the serious actors who wanted that more than anything else. And in the end, I chose to pursue only writing.

My daughter is drawn to the stage, as I once was. She wants to be so many things — an actress, a singer and a teacher, among them. As a mom, I’m letting her take the lead on it all. She can join the chorus, audition for school plays and whatever else her heart desires. And if she truly loves it, I will support her as long as she wants to be there.

sweet potatoes

Meanwhile, I’ll just keep writing. Writing lets me share the stories of people, places and things with the world. It also lets me share the food that nourishes my family — like these sweet potatoes. Much like the puzzle of careers I dreamed of when I was younger, these are a puzzle of flavors with pieces that fit perfectly together to make a satisfying dish.

Baked Sweet Potatoes with Crispy Pancetta Veggie Topping

The tender, sweet mashed flesh of baked sweet potatoes is a good contrast to the salty, crispy pancetta veggie topping. Sweet and salty, creamy and crispy, it’s a yin and yang of flavors and textures.

You start by baking the sweet potatoes. Like other potatoes, you prick a few holes in them and then bake them to tender. It takes a little under an hour. Hint: place a baking sheet on the rack below the potatoes to catch drippings as they bake for easier cleanup.

Veggies cooking for crispy pancetta veggie topping

While the sweet potatoes cool, make the topping. First saute the pancetta to crisp. Then add the veggies and saute until they are tender and browned in places. Mix it all together in a bowl.

Mash the inside of the potatoes lightly with a fork and season with salt and pepper. Top each with a quarter of the crispy pancetta veggie topping and dig in. This potato is filling enough to eat as a meal, though a light salad is a nice accompaniment.

Baked Sweet Potatoes with Crispy Pancetta Veggie Topping recipe

So, what about you? Did you find some dreams fade as you got older?

Baked Sweet Potatoes with Crispy Pancetta Veggie Topping
Serves: 4
 
Ingredients
  • 4 medium sweet potatoes
  • 4 oz. diced pancetta
  • 4 shallots, peeled, halved and sliced (a scant ½ cup)
  • 2 small carrots, small diced (a scant ⅔ cup)
  • ¼ cup small diced green pepper
  • 1 clove garlic
  • salt and pepper, to taste
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees fahrenheit. Wash and scrub the sweet potatoes. Prick each four times with a fork. Bake for 45-55 minutes, until tender. Remove from the oven and let cool.
  2. Cut a cross in the top of each potato. Squeeze to open. Use a fork to mash the flesh. Season with salt and pepper and mix.
  3. In a large skillet, cook the pancetta until browned. Remove the crisp pancetta to a mixing bowl, and drain the rendered fat from the pan, reserving 2 tablespoons in the pan.
  4. Add the shallots, carrots and green peppers to the pan and saute until crisp and browned, about 8-10 minutes. Drain and add the veggies to the pancetta. Mix well.
  5. Divide the topping evenly among the sweet potatoes. Enjoy.

 

Sarah Walker Caron

About Sarah Walker Caron

Sarah Walker Caron is senior features editor for the Bangor Daily News, and resident cook. She writes a cooking column, Maine Course, and is also author of "Grains as Mains: Modern Recipes Using Ancient Grains." Her recipes have appeared in the BDN, Betty Crocker publications, Glamour.com and more.