Sweet potato souffle, minus the marshmallows

Start with fresh sweet potatoes or use leftovers for these savory puffs

Not everyone likes super-sweet sweet potatoes.

That casserole we all grew up on, with the marshmallows and brown sugar, always tasted more like dessert than a proper side dish to me. But not quite as good as pie.

So why bother? A better use for sweet potatoes, abundant in farmers markets right now, might be something a little more savory and a little more sophisticated. Something that works with the root vegetable’s natural sweetness without covering up its true flavor.

If you’ve never worked with phyllo dough before, you’ll find that it’s quite forgiving when used as a crust. It’s OK if it crumbles on you a little, just thaw it completely in your refrigerator before using and work quickly once it’s out of its package, keeping the sheets of thin dough lightly covered with a just-damp towel so it doesn’t dry out. Pull out what you need, then re-roll the rest, wrap tightly and return to the refrigerator or freezer for another use.

Savory Sweet Potato Custard in Phyllo Cups

Sweet potatoes show their true selves in a light custard with just a hint of heat. You can either start with fresh sweet potatoes or use leftover roasted, mashed, or whipped sweet potatoes for the filling.

2 medium-large sweet potatoes, scrubbed
1/4 cup unsalted butter, divided use
1 shallot, chopped
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt, divided use
1/8 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
1/8 teaspoon ground smoked paprika
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme leaves
1/4 cup heavy cream
2 eggs
4 ounces chevre
1/2 cup grated gruyere cheese, divided use
6 sheets phyllo dough, defrosted, unfolded and gently covered with a damp towel to keep moist

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Cut sweet potatoes into 2-inch pieces and place in a saucepan. Cover with cold water. Place over high heat and bring to a boil. Cook until sweet potato is easily pierced with a knife. Drain and let cool for 10 minutes. Peel and puree with cream in a food processor or blender. You should have 2 cups. After measuring the puree, return to the food processor or blender and add 1 teaspoon salt, eggs, and chevre; puree until smooth.

Melt 2 tablespoons butter in a sauté pan over medium heat. Add shallot and a pinch of salt and cook until translucent, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat. Stir in the cayenne, paprika, nutmeg, and thyme. Stir into the sweet potato mixture with half of the grated gruyere. Taste and adjust seasonings as desired.

Gently melt remaining 2 tablespoons butter in the same pan you used for the shallots. Lightly butter 8 5-ounce ramekins or muffin tins. Stack phyllo sheets on a clean work surface. Cut the sheets in half, then turn 90 degrees and cut in half again. You now have 24 almost-square rectangles.

Working quickly, brush the first 4 lightly with melted butter. Place one rectangle in a ramekin, gently pushing bottom and sides against the dish and allowing the corners to hang over the edge. Repeat with another buttered rectangle, offsetting slightly so the overhanging corners of the second rectangle do not line up with the corners of the previous rectangle. Repeat with a third rectangle. Spoon a generous ¼-cup of sweet potato mixture into the cup. Tap the cup lightly on your surface to settle the filling. Sprinkle with a little of the remaining shredded gruyere. Loosely fold the overhanging corners of phyllo over the filling, leaving plenty of room for the filling to rise. Brush the top with more melted butter. Repeat with the remaining ramekins or muffin cups, using 3 rectangles of phyllo (3/4 of a full sheet) per ramekin.

Bake until tops are browned and filling is set, about 45 minutes to 1 hour. Remove and cool at least 15 minutes before serving. Or, serve at room temperature.

Makes 8 servings