Let me introduce you to something amazing. Perfectly roasted sweet potatoes with savory cider caramel. There’s butternut squash in there, too. You probably haven’t had sweet potatoes or butternut squash like this. I’ve never been a fan of overly-candied sweet potatoes (or candied yams) because I’ve always found them to be too sweet! I never saw the point in dumping multiple cups of sugar, syrup, and marshmallows on top of already-sweet sweet potatoes. Don’t get me wrong, it’s fine to add additional sweetness, but it needs balance. So here we are.
Balance is key. Root vegetables such as butternut squash, sweet potatoes, parsnips, carrots, etc. can really be somewhat blank slates. Giving them robust flavors is just what they’re begging for. Point is, if you’re going to add some sweetness, also add some savory. Not just salt and pepper. Give them garlic, onion, heat, etc. It’s a wonderful depth of flavor, one you’ll love and lust for every Holiday season.
Savory Cider Caramel
This stuff is a game-changer. Don’t read the word “caramel” and run for the hills. This is fool-proof caramel, you don’t even need a thermometer or any other nifty necessary kitchen gadgets. The hardest part? Reducing the apple cider. Dassit. Because after that, all you’re doing is dumping everything else in and bringing it to a fluffy boil. Then, when it’s thickened up, you turn off the heat and add the vanilla. Boom. Did I mention that it’s goddamn delicious?!
Be warned, there’s a lot of spices in this stuff. I promise that 90% of it is already laying up in your spice cabinet. Maybe you don’t have pink peppercorns, and that’s fine — leave them out. Maybe you don’t have star anise…well, get some. But if you don’t have it or can’t find it, just leave it out. Everything else though? Use it.
Whole lotta gang sh*t! This is our bounty of spices and seasonings. All necessary, all delicious.
Pour in the apple cider.
Bring it to a boil over medium heat.
Stir it often to prevent it from scorching.
We’re nearly there!
Now we’ve got 1/4 cup of reduced apple cider. Yay.
Now, either cover your baking dish tightly with foil, or use a lid that fits your baking dish. Put this in a 400 degree oven for 30 minutes.
After 25 to 30 minutes, the veggies should be fork tender, but not mushy.
Pour over about a cup or so of caramel. You won’t use it all…unless you have more veggies than I’m using here.
Gently toss to coat. Don’t be too rough. Roast uncovered for an additional 35-40 minutes.
40 minutes later…my god. these are CRACK!!!
What happens during the second roast? Well, I’ll tell you. The caramel bubbles and soaks into the sweet potatoes and butternut squash. It hugs and glazes each piece, and the heat turns the sugars into darkened bits of charred caramel. They get candied, but not hurt-your-teeth-candied. Perfection is what happens. Aromas invade your nostrils as it goes down, and you’ll find yourself gazing into the oven as it roasts, praying for it to hurry up so you can finally taste it.
I can’t wrap my head around how incredibly delicious this side dish is. It’s addicting, perfectly balanced, sweet, savory, spicy, warm…whew! My sweet and savory lovers — you’re really going to enjoy this one.
You can totally make this caramel in advance. Store it in a quart container and keep it on your counter for up to 2 days, or in your fridge for up to a week. Need to make this dish in full a few days ahead? Simply freeze it. Take it out of the freezer the night before you plan on eating, and put it in your fridge. Then, remove it from your fridge at least one full hour before you’re ready to reheat it in the oven. A good reheating temp would be 350 degrees.
*Bringing cold things to room temperature so they can be reheated evenly always smart.
Don’t be intimidated by this caramel. It doesn’t require any thermometers, and after you reduce the apple cider, all you do is pretty much dump everything in and let it reduce and thicken. You got this!
In a medium or large pot with high sides, reduce the apple cider to 1/4 to 1/3 cup over medium heat, stirring occasionally — about 8-10 minutes.
When it’s reduced, add the butter, brown sugar, honey, maple syrup, balsamic vinegar, and molasses. Stir to combine until smooth. Add the minced garlic, the fresh herbs, and all of the seasonings/spices. Pour in the heavy cream. Allow this mixture to simmer over medium-heat to reduce and thicken, about 10-12 minutes, stirring often. You’re looking for a darkened and visibly thicker caramel, but not gloopy thick. When it coats your rubber spatula nicely, turn off the heat and add the vanilla extract. The caramel will thicken even more as it stands. Let it cool slightly while you proceed with the root vegetables.
In a large baking dish, add the sweet potato and butternut squash pieces. Drizzle with olive oil, just enough so each piece is lubricated — it shouldn’t be swimming in oil. Sprinkle evenly with a big pinch of kosher salt and black pepper. Toss to coat.
Cover with foil or a lid that fits your baking dish, and bake for about 30 minutes, or just until fork tender but not mushy.
Remove from oven, and drizzle with a good amount of the caramel. Gently toss to coat. Return to oven uncovered, and let it roast for an additional 40 minutes, or until lightly charred and caramelized in spots.
Garnish with fresh thyme, if desired. Remove and discard the star anise!
Let cool at least 5 minutes before serving.
Kosher salt has a larger flake, and doesn’t taste as harshly salty as a finer table salt. You can use any salt you have, but use less of it if it’s not a large flake like Kosher salt.
You can leave out the butternut squash and swap it for more sweet potato if you desire.