The ultimate feast for foodies is nearly upon us. This week and next, I am sharing two great recipes for Thanksgiving side dishes that are updated versions of traditional Thanksgiving classics.

I love the time-honored tradition of sweet potatoes topped with marshmallows so much that I almost considered it a sacrilege when my sister-in-law (another Sarah) changed up her Thanksgiving menu a few years ago and pivoted to this Sweet Potato Casserole with Pecan Streusel Topping.

In fact, I was fairly vocal in my protest — after all, how many times a year do we get to indulge in the old-fashioned, vegetables-as-s'mores specialty? One. Just one time, and I couldn’t believe she would deprive me of this pleasure.

However, one bite of her new sweet potato casserole and I was converted.

Red sweet potatoes are roasted in a hot oven until they are fork-tender and the juices begin to run. Sarah Nasello / The Forum
Red sweet potatoes are roasted in a hot oven until they are fork-tender and the juices begin to run. Sarah Nasello / The Forum

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My recipe calls for four large sweet potatoes, which are roasted until soft and tender. Telltale signs for readiness are to pierce a couple with a fork and watch for juices to start to spill out. The fork should easily slide from top to bottom, and I begin testing after about 40 minutes of baking.

Once the sweet potatoes are roasted, I let them cool for about 15 minutes, just until I am able to handle them. Next, I remove the skins with my hands and the roasting process makes this an easy task.

Once the roasted sweet potatoes are cool enough to handle, use your hands to remove the skin. Sarah Nasello / The Forum
Once the roasted sweet potatoes are cool enough to handle, use your hands to remove the skin. Sarah Nasello / The Forum

The sweet potatoes are then mashed with a stick of melted butter, sugar, eggs, salt and vanilla, until they become thick and fluffy. I use a stand mixer with the paddle attachment for this part, and a hand mixer would also work well.

The colorful sweet potato mash features the traditional Thanksgiving vegetable combined with sugar, eggs, butter, salt and vanilla. The mash is baked until the edges begin to brown, and then a pecan streusel topping is added. Sarah Nasello / The Forum
The colorful sweet potato mash features the traditional Thanksgiving vegetable combined with sugar, eggs, butter, salt and vanilla. The mash is baked until the edges begin to brown, and then a pecan streusel topping is added. Sarah Nasello / The Forum

In this updated casserole, the marshmallows are replaced with a rich and buttery pecan streusel crust that brings terrific flavor and texture to the sweet potato mash below. The streusel is made with chopped pecans, brown sugar, melted butter, flour, salt and cinnamon, a simple combination that belies the extraordinary experience you will have upon tasting it.

After mixing it together, I place the streusel mixture in the refrigerator, which helps prevent it from melting as the casserole bakes.

The pecan streusel topping is refrigerated before sprinkling over the roasted sweet potato mash, which keeps the clumps from breaking down and melting as the casserole bakes. Sarah Nasello / The Forum
The pecan streusel topping is refrigerated before sprinkling over the roasted sweet potato mash, which keeps the clumps from breaking down and melting as the casserole bakes. Sarah Nasello / The Forum

While you can reduce the amount of butter used in the sweet potato mash, you won’t want to skimp when it comes to the streusel topping. In addition to flavor, the butter is vital to binding the other ingredients together, and, after playing around with the recipe, I have found that 3 tablespoons is just the right amount.

Once the casserole is baked, I recommend letting it rest at room temperature for at least 30 minutes before serving, which gives the dish time to set up. This sweet potato casserole can be baked up to two days in advance and reheated in the oven just before serving. It also freezes beautifully, so leftovers or a second casserole can be enjoyed beyond Thanksgiving.

Rich, sweet and buttery, this Sweet Potato Casserole is a terrific alternative to the classic version. If you are looking for ways to add more wow-factor to your table this Thanksgiving, you won’t be disappointed with this easy and delicious update.

Sarah's Sweet Potato Casserole with Pecan Streusel Topping is a perfect way to jazz up your Thanksgiving feast. Sarah Nasello / The Forum
Sarah's Sweet Potato Casserole with Pecan Streusel Topping is a perfect way to jazz up your Thanksgiving feast. Sarah Nasello / The Forum

Sweet Potatoes with Pecan Streusel Topping

PRINT: Click here for a printer-friendly version of this recipe

Serves: 8 to 10

Ingredients:

2 ½ pounds sweet potatoes (about 4 large sweet potatoes), washed and dried

½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted

1 cup sugar

¾ teaspoon kosher salt

2 eggs, beaten

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Streusel topping:

1 cup brown sugar

1/3 cup flour

½ teaspoon ground cinnamon

¼ teaspoon kosher salt

1 cup pecans, chopped

2 ½ tablespoons butter, melted

Directions:

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or foil and grease a medium-sized baking dish with butter; set aside.

Place the cleaned sweet potatoes on the prepared baking sheet and roast until they are fork-tender soft, and the juices start to leak out, about 50 to 60 minutes. To test for doneness, poke a fork into the center of the potatoes — it should slide through easily. Remove from the oven and reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees. Let the sweet potatoes rest until cool enough to handle, about 15 minutes.

Prepare the streusel topping as the sweet potatoes cool. In a medium bowl, use a spoon or rubber spatula to mix together the brown sugar, flour, cinnamon, pecans and melted butter until combined. Cover the bowl and refrigerate until ready to use.

Once the sweet potatoes are cool enough to handle, use your hands to remove the skins from each potato and discard them. In a large mixing bowl, add butter, sugar, salt, beaten eggs and vanilla. Use a hand mixer or stand mixer with the paddle attachment and beat on medium speed until well-combined and fluffy, about 3 to 4 minutes.

Pour the sweet potato mixture into the greased baking dish and bake at 350 degrees for 25 minutes. Remove casserole from the oven and sprinkle the streusel mixture over the top until evenly distributed. Return casserole to the oven and bake until topping is golden brown, about 15 to 20 minutes.

Remove from oven and lightly cover with foil. Let the casserole rest for at least 30 minutes before serving.

Sarah’s tip:

  • This casserole freezes beautifully and can be stored in refrigerator for 2 days or in the freezer, well wrapped, for at least 2 months. Reheat in the oven at 350 degrees until hot before serving.

Recipe Time Capsule:

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Recipes can be found with the article at InForum.com.

“Home with the Lost Italian” is a weekly column written by Sarah Nasello featuring recipes by her husband, Tony Nasello. The couple owned Sarello’s in Moorhead and lives in Fargo with their son, Giovanni. Readers can reach them at sarahnasello@gmail.com.