Let’s talk about something quickly that has confused me over the years: the difference between yams and sweet potatoes.
Here’s the thing. It’s actually hard to find real yams in grocery stores. They aren’t popular in America. But, there are two kinds of sweet potatoes that are sold: ones with a lighter skin and light yellow flesh and ones with a more orange tint to it.
Unfortunately, a lot of grocery stores label the more orange sweet potatoes as yams even though they aren’t. They are still sweet potatoes but just a different variety.
My grocery store actually had these labeled as “Sweet Potatoes/Yams” as if they were the same thing!
Real yams have a dark skin and are even sweeter than sweet potatoes. They are popular in Caribbean cuisine, but are actually a bit hard to find in most grocery stores in the states.
So let the record show: These wonderfully delicious baked shells are stuffed with sweet potatoes and definitely not stuffed with yams.
1) Peel and cube yams and boil them in salted water until they are very tender, about 12-15 minutes. Drain yams and mash in a bowl.
2) You can cook shells in same water. Cook until al dente and then remove and drain shells.
3) Dice onions, sage, and garlic and saute in butter over medium heat until onions are soft, about 5-6 minutes. Don't brown the onions. Add red pepper flakes and a pinch of salt.
4) Add onion mixture to mashed yams with greek yogurt, cream, and walnuts. Stir together and season with salt and pepper.
5) Add half of the tomato sauce to the bottom of a 9x13 baking dish. Working with one shell at a time, fill shell with a few spoonfuls of filling. You can stuff them pretty full. It's also okay if they rip a bit.
6) Arrange stuffed shells in baking dish. Once the dish is full, top each shell with extra sauce and a slice of mozzarella.
7) Cover dish loosely with foil and bake for 30 minutes at 350 degrees. Then uncover and bake dish for another 15 minutes at 400 degrees.
8) Serve shells garnished with fresh chopped chives.
Making the Filling
This is really a perfect winter filling. You could do a lot of things with it actually besides stuff it in shells. You could layer it in a lasagna or put it in manicotti. You could put it in ravioli or add some cheese and extra cream to it and make a kind of baked dip out of it.
It all starts with sweet potatoes though. Two large ones should do the trick. Just peel them and dice them into pretty large cubes.
Boil these cubes in salted water until they are very tender (about 15 minutes) and then mash them up in a bowl. It’s okay if they aren’t completely smooth. Some lumps are just fine.
Sweet potatoes are a good start but we want to add a lot more flavor to this filling. I really like the onion/sage flavor profile that the polenta I posted on Thursday had, so I decided to use similar stuff for this filling.
Dice up the onion, mince the garlic and sage, and saute the veggies in butter over medium heat until the onions are soft. Be sure not to cook them on high heat or the veggies might brown which isn’t what you want.
You just want them to soften a bit so they turn slightly sweet. It should take about 5-6 minutes.
Then add in your red pepper flakes and add this mixture to the mashed sweet potatoes. You can add your yogurt and cream at the same time!
I stirred this all together and tasted it.
Very Important: Any time you are coming up with a filling like this, it’s very important to taste it as you go.
When I tasted this, I liked the flavor, but I thought the texture was a bit mushy. So I went rummaging through my pantry and landed on some walnuts that I thought would give this filling some great texture.
Just remember… if the filling tastes good on its own (which this did) then it’s going to be even better when it’s baked and covered with cheese.
Like I said, I wanted to use shells for this dish just because I don’t use them very often. You could use almost any baked pasta thing though for this filling, so go crazy!
Whatever pasta you choose, just make sure you don’t over cook the stuff. Pull it out while the pasta still has a very tiny bite to it. It will continue to cook in the oven later.
Prepping the Shells
These shells are actually really easy to stuff assuming that you don’t overcook them. Just add a few spoonfuls of filling to each shell! You can really stuff them pretty full.
In a large baking dish, add about half of your tomato sauce to the bottom of the dish and then start stacking these shells in the dish.
You might have some leftover filling or shells depending on a few things, but it’s better to have leftover filling then not enough!
Add the rest of your tomato sauce to the top of the shells and top each shell with some mozzarella cheese.
I’m always inclined to add a large amount of cheese to dishes like this, but I would really recommend keeping the cheese light in this instance. The filling is really the star of the show and very delicious and rich on its own. So just a small amount of cheese should do the trick.
Baking the Pasta
Cover this dish loosely with foil and bake it at 350 degrees for about 30 minutes.
Then crank up the heat to 400 and remove the foil. Bake it for another 15 minutes just so the tops of the pasta gets slightly browned.
Serve these suckers with some fresh chopped chives!
These were a delicious winter dinner and the leftovers were perfect also. Betsy and I ate these shells for a few days and I never got sick of them.
So remember: These are sweet potatoes, not yams.
And also remember to try this as soon as possible!