This sweet potato sharp cheddar gratin was one of the first recipes I posted to my blog. The only problem was I had no idea I was going to want to post it (it’s not remotely Paleo!), and I only had some hasty iPhone photos of it. I’ve rephotographed it so that all the deliciousness is well captured. This dish was the absolute HIT of Thanksgiving last year, and I definitely recommend you make it to add a tasty twist to your Thanksgiving table this year! The original post and recipe follows.
To be honest, I wasn’t planning to put this Sweet Potato and Sharp Cheddar Gratin on the blog – at least not this soon! I mean, it’s a PALEO blog and dairy isn’t STRICT Paleo. I don’t need the Paleo police arresting me only four posts in to blogging. But, I also know that this dish got rave reviews at Thanksgiving. As in, multiple people came up to me and said it was their favorite dish of the night. And a family member who is a fantastic restaurant-owning chef cooked dinner. And there were stuffing and mashed potatoes on the table (my personal faves). So, ya know, that means something. And I also know that quality, grass-fed dairy can be part of any healthy diet. Many people who eat Paleo incorporate quality dairy from time to time. So, I’m going for it.
When I was tasked with bringing a sweet potato dish to Thanksgiving, I was a little panicked. I like sweet potatoes, but usually just cut them in cubes and roast them. Nothing fancy. I hate sweetening them up, as they are already sweet enough for me. I was worried that people would want the whole candied yam type experience, which I couldn’t get motivated to deliver. Our Thanksgiving this year was for 45 people (yes, seriously), so I embraced the challenge and decided to make two dishes – one sweeter, the other more savory. The sweeter version uses parsnips, apple cider, and Aleppo pepper to make a completely whole30 and Paleo-compliant dish. I used the recipe on epicurious found here and didn’t deviate. It was tasty, but couldn’t compare to the savory version.
For the savory version, I wanted to replicate a sweet potato and sharp cheddar gratin that I’d had about 5 years ago at Underbelly in Houston. It was a fantastic meal at a time when Houston was redefining its food culture and putting itself on the map for some of the best food in the country. I can only imagine how good it is now, given that strong starting point. Our meal at Underbelly was inventive, full of rich flavors, and one I think about not infrequently given how long ago it was. At the end of the meal, I asked our server if he could ask the chef how the gratin was made. It changed my perceptions about sweet potatoes, and I wanted to try and replicate it. He came back and told me that the keys were super thinly sliced sweet potatoes, and very, very sharp cheddar. Sounded easy enough, but I never acted on this inspiration until this Thanksgiving.
Here, I’ve used my beloved Benriner mandolin to thinly slice buckets and buckets of sweet potatoes. I did a lot of research on mandolins before selecting this one, and I absolutely love it! I like to make the slices very thin (~1/16 inch) so that when they cook in the cream and cheese they turn to melty butter themselves.
I paired them with 5 year aged cheddar from Tillamook (the older the cheddar the better!) and a heavy cream sauce infused with garlic, thyme, nutmeg, and, um, butter. No one said this was low calorie.
I tried a version with whole milk to lighten things up, but even whole milk has too much water content and made things soupy. If you want to go the whole milk or 2% route anyway, I suggest pulling the gratin out of the oven halfway through cooking and spooning off some of the liquid. But, I strongly encourage you to go all-in with this sweet potato sharp cheddar gratin and just indulge. It will satisfy you far more, and makes an excellent holiday treat this way. It’s a gorgeous centerpiece dish that will wow all your guests.
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This sweet potato sharp cheddar gratin balances savory, sharp, and sweet perfectly, for a delicious take on a sweet potato side dish for Thanksgiving and beyond!
- 8 sweet potatoes (Opt for longer, narrower ones vs fat ones, as this will ensure they fit on your mandolin and don’t stand too tall in the gratin)
- 2 cups heavy cream
- 1 3/4 cups aged, sharp cheddar, finely grated (the older and sharper the better)
- 2 cloves garlic, grated
- 2 tablespoons chopped thyme
- 1 teaspoon salt (if using unsalted butter)
- 1/2 stick butter (aka 1/4 cup or 4 tablespoons)
- 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg (grate it fresh if you have it)
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees
- Peel the potatoes and slice on a mandolin, or slice tediously with a knife. You want super thin slices, between 1/16 and 1/8 inch thick
- Grease round or oval casserole dish with butter (you can obviously use square or rectangle, it just might be harder to fit with pieces)
- Working in batches, carefully stack potatoes 3 inches high, sprinkling a touch of cheddar in between slices as you stack
- Once you have about 10 stacks, start to arrange in concentric circles in the pan, with the potatoes standing on the thin ends vs. lying flat. Make more stacks as needed to fill up casserole. Don’t be afraid to pack relatively tightly, as the potatoes will soften and shrink in the oven
- Heat the cream, garlic, thyme, nutmeg and butter in medium saucepan until mixture simmers. Remove from heat and add salt to taste (about a teaspoon if using unsalted butter but adjust to your taste)
- Pour mixture over potatoes until it comes half way up the dish. This may mean you don’t use the whole mixture and that’s ok! It will be too soupy otherwise
- Cover with tinfoil and bake 30 minutes
- Remove foil, sprinkle a touch more cheese on top. If it’s looking soupy, spoon out a few tablespoons of liquid. Return to oven and bake uncovered for another 30 minutes until cheese is bubbly and brown
- Remove from oven and let rest for 15 minutes before serving
Keywords: sweet potatoes, gratin, sharp cheddar