Mac & Cheese Stuffed Sweet Potatoes

Thursday, November 07, 2019

Name a better combo this time of year than a bite of mac & cheese mixed with candied yams from your Thanksgiving plate. I'll wait.

Exactly. That's all you need to know about my inspiration here. I went straight for pure, unadulterated, soul food pleasure. My original idea was really intended as a way to remix holiday leftovers, but I'm writing the recipe so we can all savor this dynamic duo at any time. If you've made my Classic Creamy Baked Mac & Cheese, then you will be pretty familiar with most of the recipe instructions. I went with Irish cheddar, pepper jack, and Raclette for my cheese blend. Gruyere would be an excellent alternative to Raclette. I think a cheddar, smoked Gouda, and Muenster mix would also pair nicely with sweet potato. As long as you keep a similar ratio of sharp cheddar to mild and melty cheeses, you'll be in good shape to make adjustments as you see fit.

Besides a good mac & cheese, you really want to get good sweet potatoes - unfortunately, they aren't all created equal. My favorite varieties are the Jewel Yam and Garnet Yam. They're a gorgeous bright orange color, perfectly sweet, and not as watery or stringy as typical sweet potatoes. You can find them consistently at Whole Foods, which is also an easy place to look for gourmet cheeses.

The recipe below makes a half pan of mac & cheese that could be used to stuff at least eight small sweet potatoes, if not more. If you have any remaining, simply bake the rest of the mac & cheese in buttered ramekins. (Or double the mac and cheese ingredients to make a full recipe, and bake the rest in a buttered casserole dish!)

Mac & Cheese Stuffed Sweet Potatoes

Ingredients for the sweet potatoes:
8 small sweet potatoes, ideally Jewel Yams or Garnet Yams
1 tbsp cooking oil
Cracked black pepper, to taste
Kosher salt, to taste
4 tbsp unsalted butter, softened
1 tsp cinnamon
2 tbsp brown sugar

Ingredients for the mac & cheese:
8 oz dried elbow macaroni noodles
Kosher salt, as needed
2 1/2 cups whole milk
1 bay leaf
1/2 small onion
4 oz sharp cheddar cheese
4 oz pepper jack cheese
4 oz Gruyere cheese
4 tbsp unsalted butter, divided
1/4 cup all-purpose white flour
1 tsp smoked paprika (plus a pinch more for the breadcrumbs)
1 tsp dry mustard
1/4 tsp cayenne
1/4 tsp grated nutmeg
1/2 tsp cracked black pepper
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
1/4 cup panko breadcrumbs

Servings: 8
Active Time: 45 min
Total Time: 1 hour, 30 min
Equipment Needed: Heavy duty sheet panLarge pot, saucepanpasta strainer, cheese grater, fine grater or zester

To roast the sweet potatoes, scrub them clean and arrange on a foil-lined sheet pan. Rub the skins lightly with oil. Bake for 1 hour at 400°F, or until the sweet potatoes are tender. Set aside and allow them to cool until safe to handle. The sweet potatoes can sit out until you've prepared the mac & cheese.

To prepare the mac & cheese, first, boil the elbow noodles in a pot of heavily salted water. Undercook the pasta by a couple minutes shy of the box directions for "al dente" which usually means 6 minutes. Strain the pasta and rinse with cold water.

When you shred your cheese, set a third of it to the side. I mixed the cheddar and pepper jack for my cheese sauce and left the Raclette separate. It melts so beautifully that I really wanted that to be the cheese I topped each sweet potato with. But you could just blend all three kinds of cheese and set a third of that aside, whatever works.

In a saucepan, simmer the milk together with the onion and the bay leaf, until the milk is steaming hot. Then you can strain it and discard the onion and bay leaf.

Wipe the saucepan clean and return it to the stovetop. Over medium heat, melt 3 tablespoons of butter. Whisk in the flour to make a roux. Cook for a minute or two until smooth and bubbly.

Whisk vigorously while streaming in the hot milk, and keep whisking until no lumps remain. This is the bechamel sauce, and it needs to simmer for at least ten minutes to properly thicken. You can go ahead and season it, just continue to stir frequently so no lumps develop. Whisk in about half a teaspoon of Kosher salt, and 1 teaspoon of smoked paprika, along with the mustard, cayenne,  nutmeg, black pepper, and the Worcestershire sauce.

When the sauce is properly thickened it should easily coat a wooden spoon. Taste it and adjust the seasonings as needed. Just remember that cheese has salt, so you don't want the sauce to be salty too.

Take the saucepan off the heat. Fold in two-thirds of the shredded cheese, until melted.

Stir in the cooked elbow noodles. The sauce will first look a bit runny...

But if you give it a few minutes to set up, the sauce will be absorbed by more of the noodles. (It's not a big deal if you don't want to wait, but just want to point this out in case yours looks different.)

Turn the oven down to 350°F. After the roasted sweet potatoes have cooled, use a knife to split them each down the center. Season the insides with salt and pepper. Mix together the softened butter, cinnamon, and brown sugar, and then spread it over the flesh of each sweet potato.

Now for the fun part! You'll need the extra cheese you set aside. Stuff a good pinch of cheese down the middle of each sweet potato. Then fill each sweet potato with a serving of mac & cheese. Finally, top the mac & cheese with the remaining shredded cheese.

I happen to like the textural contrast that buttered bread crumbs add. If that's not your thing, feel free to bake these as is! To prepare the breadcrumbs, melt the remaining tablespoon of butter. Toss with the panko crumbs and dash of smoked paprika. 

Sprinkle each sweet potato with breadcrumbs. Bake the sweet potatoes at 350°F for 15 minutes, or until warmed through and bubbly. Serve hot!

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  1. Angela, I am SUCH A BIG FAN on Twitter. I would LOVE to interview you about historical family foodways and how you create fusion to make them contemporary. I have a podcast, From Paper To People, and it has a Family Cookbook feature for discussing ancestors and their recipes, and local/ethnic food culturres. Would you consider it, please?? I have over 1000 international listeners.

    Thank you so much for all the deliciousness you put out into the world.

    Carolynn ni Lochlainn