Spicy and Sweet Potato Colcannon with Pancetta

November 13, 2009
Photo by James Ransom
Author Notes

This recipe began as a riff on traditional Irish colcannon—a potato, cabbage (or kale), and onion dish. Colcannon is typically served around Halloween, which coincides with the Celtic harvest celebration, Samhain. A bit of fortune-telling legend is also attached to the dish: A plain gold ring is hidden in the serving platter, and the one who finds it will be married within the year. Here, colcannon gets a boost of color and spice: The orange and green combine to lend visual interest (and a tribute to the Irish flag), and the addition of cayenne pepper will have you doing a perfect Irish jig in no time. —Allison Cay Parker

Test Kitchen Notes

WHO: Allison Cay Parker is a baker and freelance editor living in New York City.
WHAT: A traditional Irish colcannon updated with sweet potatoes, pancetta, and cayenne.
HOW: Combine sweet potatoes with kale and half-and-half. Add in sautéed chopped onion, cayenne powder, and freshly-cooked pancetta. Serve immediately, or enjoy it the next morning with an egg.
WHY WE LOVE IT: Our usual complaint about mashed potatoes is that they don't have enough flavor—or butter. This recipe puts an end to those woes, packed with flavorful herbs and vegetables. You can try serving it as a side, as long as your main dish is okay with it stealing the show. —The Editors

  • Prep time 25 minutes
  • Cook time 50 minutes
  • Serves 4 to 6 as a side dish (makes 4 cups)
  • 1/3 pound kale, rinsed well and stripped of coarse stems
  • 1 1/2 pounds sweet potato, peeled and cut in 1/2-inch cubes
  • 1 pinch salt and pepper, plus more to taste
  • 4 1/8-inch thick slices pancetta, diced
  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • 1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
  • 1/8 teaspoon cayenne powder, plus more as desired
  • 1/2 cup half-and-half
In This Recipe
  1. Place kale in salted boiling water for 8 minutes, until tender and bright green. Reserving the boiling water, remove with a slotted spoon, drain well and squeeze out excess water, then chop fine.
  2. Boil the sweet potato in the water used for the kale for 15 minutes, covered, or until tender. Drain and pass through a potato ricer or food mill, into a large, heat-proof pot. (Note: If you have neither a ricer nor mill, push potato through a sieve or otherwise be sure to mash thoroughly until smooth.)
  3. Add the chopped kale to the sweet potato. Season with salt and pepper to taste, keeping in mind that the inclusion of cayenne and pancetta later in the recipe will boost the levels of both salt and spice; be judicious.
  4. In a medium skillet over moderate heat, cook the pancetta until crisp but not browned. Remove using a slotted spoon and let drain on a paper towel.
  5. In the same pan you used to cook the pancetta, melt the butter. Add onion and cayenne and sauté over medium heat, until onion is translucent and has lost its crunch. Set aside.
  6. In a small saucepan, heat half-and-half, then beat it into the sweet potato-kale mixture (I just used a fork, which worked best). Add the pancetta. Add the onion and the fat from the pan. Combine all ingredients well, and serve warm.
  7. This dish may be prepared in advance. In fact, it tastes even better the next day. Also, try pressing the colcannon into a pie plate and chilling overnight: The next day, cut into wedges and fry up in additional butter or oil to accompany a breakfast of scrambled eggs.

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