Purple sweet potatoes packed with goodness (2.15.12 N&R)

There’s an island off Japan where women are living longer than anyone else in the world. There are five times more centenarians (that’s folks more than 100 years old) in Okinawa, Japan, than in the United States and it has much to do with diet. The lifestyles of the Okinawins’ are full of hard work and traditional Japanese provisions, including soy and nearly seven servings of vegetables daily. Their plates are 70 percent filled with low-glycemic, purple sweet potatoes. Unlike the rest of their rice consuming country—this tater is their fountain of youth.Closer to home, in Walnut Cove, N.C., the ladies at church are noticing their blood sugar drop after incorporating a similar purple sweet potato into their diets. It isn’t scientific by any means—they don’t even count the neighborhood kid’s science project results—but they can feel a difference. And, Mike and Janice Sizemore, founders and owners of the patented Stokes Purple sweet potato, are feeling a difference in both their bodies and their wallets.
After retiring as a Captain with the DMV, Mike Sizemore decided Stokes County needed to “grow more than houses.” With fourth generation family farmland in his hands—that would turn to pine trees if he didn’t act fast—he looked for a crop needing little tending. That’s when he and Janice were given a couple of gnarly-looking purple potatoes that turned out to be their destiny.The Sizemores sent the plant to Raleigh to be studied and cleansed of viruses.  Eighteen months later, North Carolina State University returned the slip ready for patenting.
Unlike the controversial patenting of genetically modified seeds, the Stokes Purple was patented for its unique, natural state. Saura Pride Sweet Potatoes, the parent company of Stokes Foods, owns the mother plant and gives permission to local farms to grow and profit from the potato. The Sizemore’s business is actually reversing the trend of global food processing and reinvigorating local farms transitioning from tobacco. Stokes Purple Potatoes and Saura Pride now employ six family farms in Stokes, Guilford and Forsyth counties.

The purple potatoes make Stokes County farming stand out. Their profitable potatoes are more dense and have less sugar than the typical orange sweet potato. While the Stokes Purple doesn’t peek in the market until after Thanksgiving, taking around 5 months more time to mature, it falls right in time for diet season. The potatoes are extremely high in antioxidants (an estimated 150 percent more than blueberries), fiber and calcium.

After years of hard work, the Sizemores ship their potatoes across the country in 40 and 10 pound boxes. They also sell direct to wholesalers who source supermarkets on the east coast including Whole Foods and The Fresh Market. Which means you can pick them up easily and start regaining your youth in no time!

Janice says next time she will make their retirement plan. With years of potential business growth ahead of them, I have no doubt she will.
After visiting with some of the Sizemore kinfolk, I was inspired to create a dish as unique as the potato. I tested several recipes including a breakfast hash and purple sweet potato chips but was most proud of my Homemade Purple Sweet Potato Pasta with Pine Nuts and Spinach. Like the potato itself, this hearty dish is not only full of vitamins and packed with color, but delicious and playful to eat.

Purple Sweet Potato Pasta with Pine Nuts and Spinach
serves 6 to 8 guests

Tip: Avoid using a self-rising flour, or flour including baking soda and baking powder, as it has a chemical reaction with the purple potato turning it green.  I used bread flour to add more glutton to the dough and balance the white whole wheat flour.

  • 1 and 1/4 cup 100% white whole wheat flour
  • 1 and 1/4 cup bread flour, plus more for kneading
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons fresh rosemary, minced
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 cup pureed purple sweet potato, about 1 large potato
  • 12 ounces fresh baby spinach
  • 4 tablespoons garlic infused olive oil
  • 4 tablespoons, toasted pine nuts
  • Pecorino Romano cheese, grated to taste
  • salt and pepper, to taste

Peal purple sweet potato and cut into large cubes. Add to a pot of cold water and bring to a boil. Cook until tender. Remove the potatoes with tongs and reserve cooking water. Puree the potatoes in a food processor, move to a separate bowl and allow to cool.

Rinse and dry the food processor bowl, add flour, salt and rosemary. Pulse together. Add eggs and purple sweet potatoes. Pulse until combined. Move the dough to a clean floured surface and knead manually until formed together and does not stick to the surface. You may need to add more flour as you knead. Once formed, allow the dough to rest for about ten minutes in the refrigerator before running though a pasta machine.

Cut the dough into four pieces and begin to feed the dough through the widest setting of the pasta machine. As the dough comes out, fold into thirds and feed through again – and again about 4 or 5 times. Gradually reduce the settings until the pasta is as thick as tagliatelle. Then use the cutting side of the machine to cut the dough.

Add a tablespoon of salt to the reserved purple boiling water. Boil the pasta, in small batches, until floating and cooked through.

In a saute pan, wilt spinach in garlic infused oil over medium high heat. Add the pasta into the skillet with spinach and top with pecorino cheese, pine nuts and salt and pepper. Season to taste and enjoy!

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