The Southern Sympathy Cookbook

I'm P.C., and I have studied food and cooking around the world, mostly by eating, but also through serious study. Coursework at Le Cordon Bleu London and intensive courses in Morocco, Thailand and France have broadened my culinary skill and palate. But my kitchen of choice is at home, cooking like most people, experimenting with unique but practical ideas.

I live, mostly in my kitchen, in my hometown of Memphis, Tennessee.

Pasta with Chestnuts, Pancetta and Sage

This recipe was born from my love for chestnuts, and my overzealous purchase of them before Thanksgiving. I include chestnuts in my dressing, and when I see them on the shelves, I go a little nuts and always buy more than I need.  So after that holiday madness dies down, I find ways to use them in other recipes.  And by that point I have heard “chestnuts roasting on an open fire” on the radio at least once.  This dish doesn’t take long to prepare, but makes an elegant, unique meal break during this crazy season.  Time to take breath and enjoy time together.

Chestnuts are nutty and slightly sweet and pair beautifully with woodsy sage and salty pancetta.  I readily find packages of pre-diced pancetta at markets, but if you don’t, go to the deli counter and ask them to give you a couple of thick slices and dice those into bits.  Thin sliced pancetta does not work as well.  In the photos, I used a short, twisted pasta labeled “torcetti”, but any short, thick pasta will work, like fusilli or casarecce. Orecchiette would work as well.  The chunks of pancetta and chestnut get lost in long pastas.  And I will admit, this is enough pasta to serve 4 people with a salad and some nice bread, but for big eaters, it may only serve 2!

Pasta with Chestnuts, Pancetta and Sage

10 ounces dried pasta

4 ounces diced pancetta

1 tablespoon chopped fresh sage, plus several large leaves

4 ounces roasted chestnuts, chopped

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 cup white wine

1 cup heavy cream

Salt and pepper to taste

Parmesan cheese

Cook the pasta in a large pot of salted boiling water, according to package instructions. Drain the pasta in a colander.

While the pasta is cooking, sauté the pancetta in a sauté pan, large enough to hold the pasta, over medium heat until it is cooked through and crispy.  Use a slotted spoon to remove the pancetta to a plate lined with paper towels to drain.  Drop a few sage leaves into the hot drippings and fry until deep green then remove to the paper towels. (This helps flavor the sauce, and the fried leaves are a wonderful garnish).  Drop the chopped chestnuts into the drippings and sauté until they are a deep tan color, smell nice and nutty and start to crisp up, about 5 minutes.  Remove with the slotted spoon to the paper towels. Turn the heat off under the pan and let the drippings cool for a minute.  Drop the garlic in the pan for just a minute (don’t let it burn or turn dark), then pour in the wine.  Turn the heat on high and bring the wine to a boil. Sprinkle in about ¾ of the Tablespoon of the chopped sage.  Cook until the wine is reduced by half and is thickened and syrupy, about 5 minutes.   Add the cream, lower the heat to medium and simmer until heated through and slightly thickened.

Add the drained pasta to the sauce in the pan and toss to coat, stir in the pancetta, chestnuts and remaining chopped fresh sage. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve immediately, with parmesan cheese grated over the top.

Serves 4 (or two if you are really hungry)

French Lentil Salad with Walnuts and Goat Cheese

When the weather turns chilly, it may seem that the time for cold salads has past.  But this lovely, homey lentil salad is perfect for fall.  The ingredients for this could not be humbler, but somehow the whole comes off as sophisticated.  This is the kind of dish I imagine a French home cook would whip up if you just dropped by unexpectedly.

This salad is great beside a grilled piece of pork or a roasted chicken.  It makes a great lunch with a piece of crusty bread, and can easily be packed to take to the office or a picnic.  For company, I toss the nuts, herbs and cheese in right before serving, but the leftovers, or a fresh batch just for you, are great sitting in the fridge for a few days as you snack out of the bowl.

Walnut oil can be a bit pricey, but it is a wonderful treat to give salads and dressings a nutty zing.  Something about it adds to the French-ness of this salad.  You can use olive oil, either as half the oil or all of it.  French green lentils, or lentils de puy, are the perfect for salads because they cook up tender but still retain their shape.  These lentils used to be only found at gourmet shops or mail-order, but I have finally shared this recipe because I now find them regularly in the organic grains aisle at my large grocery store.

French Lentil Salad with Walnuts and Goat Cheese

6 cups chicken broth

1 carrot

1 celery stalk

2 cloves garlic

2 bay leaves

2 ½ cups petite green lentils (such as Bob’s Red Mill)

3 cloves garlic, minced

1/3 cup white wine vinegar

1 Tablespoon Dijon mustard

½ cup walnut oil

Salt and pepper

1 cup chopped walnuts

2 tablespoons chopped flat leaf parsley

4 ½ ounces goat cheese, crumbled

Pour the chicken broth into a large pot. Cut the celery and carrots into large chunks and add to the broth with the peeled garlic cloves and bay leaves.  Bring to a boil and add the lentils, stirring well.  Boil the lentils for 3 minutes, skimming off any green scum that rises.  Reduce the heat to medium low and simmer for 25 – 30 minutes until the lentils are tender, but still hold their shape.

While the lentils are cooking, place the garlic, vinegar and mustard in a blender and food processor and blend until smooth.  Add a good pinch of salt and generous grinds of black pepper. Drizzle in the oil with the motor running until you have a creamy dressing.

When the lentils are done, drain away any remaining liquid and discard the carrot, celery, garlic and bay leaves (It’s best to do this is in a fine strainer, these lentils are small). Transfer the lentils to a bowl, then pour the dressing over the warm lentils, tossing gently to fully coat.  Cool slightly, then cover the bowl and refrigerate the lentils for 8 hours or overnight.

When ready to serve, lightly toast the walnuts in a dry skillet until they are just brown and smell toasty.  Toss the walnuts, parsley and crumbled goat cheese with the lentils.  Taste and season with more salt and pepper as needed.

Serves 8 – 10

Oatmeal Get Up and Go Muffins

When the reality of the new school year and the end of summer hit, having a quick, portable breakfast on hand can be a serious boon.  And these muffins fit the bill.  I often find muffins labeled “healthy” to be leaden gut bombs, but these are light and tender, thanks to the magic of buttermilk.  Oats provide a nice, sustained energy level and soaking them in the buttermilk prevents that chewy, gritty texture you sometimes find in baked goods with oatmeal.  These are not excessively sweet muffins, so no sugar crash, and the applesauce keeps the flavor up and the fat content down.

But the real beauty of these muffins is their versatility.  While delicious straight up, the recipe below is really the blueprint for your own creativity.  When you stir in the applesauce*, add your  favorite dried fruit and/or nut combo, and any spice that tickles your fancy.  Try ½ cup dried cranberries and ½ teaspoon pumpkin pie spice.  Or make that ¼ cup cranberries and ¼ cup chopped walnuts.  Or raisins and cinnamon.  Blueberries and nutmeg.  Pecans and apple pie spice.  I often scoop half a batch of plain batter to the tin, then add my additions to the second half.  These muffins are delicious fresh, but will last for three days in an airtight container.  When they are completely cooled, wrap each one individually in plastic wrap and pop into the freezer in a zipper bag.  Just pull one out the night before and you are ready to go.

And one note on the yield.  I have been fiddling with this recipe for years, and I simply lack the mathematical skills to make it an even dozen.  If the anomaly truly bothers you, divide the batter between all 12 cups and you’ll get smaller muffins.

Oatmeal Get-Up-And-Go Muffins

1 cup old-fashioned rolled oats

1 cup low-fat buttermilk

1 egg

½ cup packed light brown sugar

1 cup whole wheat flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

½ teaspoon baking soda

¼ teaspoon salt

½ cup unsweetened apple sauce

Place the oats in a large bowl and pour over the buttermilk.  Stir gently with a spoon to cover the oats, then leave to sit for one hour.

Preheat the oven to 350°.  Grease 10 cups of a muffin pan.

Stir the egg and brown sugar into the oat mixture until combined.  Add the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt and stir until just barely mixed.  Add the applesauce (and any add-ins*) and stir until just combined.  Don’t’ stir too hard or too long or the muffins will be tough.

Scoop the batter into the muffin cups (I use a large cookie scoop).  Bake for 12 – 15 minutes until a tester inserted in the middle comes out clean.  Cool in the pan for a few minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack to cool completely.

Yields 10 – 11 muffins

Fresh Pear Vinaigrette

My favorite simple fall salad dressing was created quite unexpectedly.  I was given a fancy bottle of white balsamic vinegar infused with pear.  That’s what it said on the label, but I never tasted any hint of pear.  It sat in my pantry for a while, unused.  But at some point, I was asked to bring a salad to a dinner, and had purchased a pear to cut up on top.  My forward planning got the better of me and the pear ripened so much waiting for its star turn that it was too soft to cut into nice chunks.  Scanning the pantry to try and rescue my salad, I saw that fancy vinegar and thought maybe I could use it and the soft pear to dress the salad.  This vinaigrette was the result, and it has become a firm family favorite.

This is particularly good on dark leafy spinach, and I love to add to the fall flavor by tossing the salad with dried cranberries and toasted walnuts, a little blue cheese, and if you have fresh pear, some nice juicy chunks.  And this is a great way to use up that last pitiful, lonely soft pear left in the fruit bowl.  Oh, and if you happen to have a bottle of pear-infused white balsamic, feel free to use it.

Fresh Pear Vinaigrette

Walnut oil adds a nice depth and nuttiness, but if you don’t have any, use all olive oil.

1 large ripe pear, peeled and cored

Juice of one small lemon

1 Tablespoon sugar

½ teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon ground black pepper

¼ cup white wine or white balsamic vinegar

¼ cup walnut oil

¼ cup extra virgin olive oil

Cut the pear into chunks and drop in the carafe of a blender with the lemon juice.  Purée, then add the sugar, salt and pepper.  Add the vinegar and blend well.  With the blender running, drizzle in the oils until you have a nice, thick emulsified dressing.

The dressing can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 8 hours.  Shake well before using.

Makes ¾ cups

Kielbasa Pasta with Honey Mustard Sauce

We are in the transitional season.  Not quite full on fall, but summer vacation is definitely over. This is a nice, hearty pasta with flavors that bridge that gap between summer and fall.  Stone ground mustard provides a nice tang and texture, but the hit of the bright yellow version deepens the mustard flavor.  The honey adds a subtle sweetness that pairs well with the meaty kielbasa.  And I love the little scoops of orecchiette because they cradle the sauce, sweet onions and chunky sausage in their hollows, creating perfectly balanced bites, but you could certainly use ziti or fusilli or a pasta of your choice.

Kielbasa Pasta with Honey Mustard Sauce

1 pound kielbasa

1 Tablespoon olive oil

1 large yellow onion, diced

¾ pound orecchiette pasta

3 Tablespoons butter, divided

2 Tablespoons flour

1 cup chicken broth

1 cup milk

2 Tablespoons stone ground mustard

1 Tablespoon yellow mustard

2 Tablespoons honey

Salt and pepper to taste

Chop the kielbasa into bite sized cubes.  Heat the oil in a large sauté pan over medium heat and cook the kielbasa until browned and cooked through. I like to use a large pan that will fit the pasta when it is cooked.  Transfer the kielbasa to paper towels to drain.

Cook the orecchiette in a large pot of well-salted water according to package instructions until al dente.  Drain and toss with one Tablespoon of the butter to prevent sticking.

Add the chopped onions to the oil and fat in the pan and stir to coat.  When the onions begin to soften, add 1 cup of water, cover the pan and simmer until the onions are soft and caramelized, about 15 minutes.  Stir often to prevent sticking and add more water as needed.  When the onions are a nice toffee brown, uncover the pot and simmer until the liquid is evaporated.  Stir the onions into the cooked pasta.

Melt the remaining two Tablespoons butter in the sauté pan.  Whisk in the flour until smooth.  Slowly add the broth and milk, whisking constantly until thick and creamy.  Stir in the mustards and honey and season well with salt and pepper.  Simmer the sauce for about 5 minutes until thick and hot through.

Stir the pasta, onions and kielbasa together and add to the sauce.  Stir to coat thoroughly and cook over medium low until heated through.  Taste for seasoning and adjust.

Serve immediately.

Serves 4 – 6

Melon Rosé Sangria

Pink and pretty and refreshing.  Okay, a little girly. But this lovely summer sipper will cool you off with a little sophistication.  The pink wine available in the US has come a long way from “white zin” and the eighties wine bar, and I urge you to seek it out.  It is a crisp summer wine and there are great, affordable versions from France like La Vieille Ferme and South Africa such as Mulderbosch.

I like the attractive little balls of melon, but if that’s more work than you are willing to do, cut the melons into small cubes.

Melon Rosé Sangria

½ cup sugar

4 sprigs of mint

2 cups fresh melon balls (watermelon, honeydew, cantaloupe), juices reserved (plus more for garnish)

¼ cup elderflower liqueur (such as St. Germain)

1 750 ml bottle rosé wine

2 cups lemon-lime soda

Bring the water and sugar to a boil in a small saucepan.  Stir until the sugar is dissolved, remove from the heat and drop in the mint leaves.  Leave to cool.

Place the melon balls and reserved juice in a large pitcher.  Pour over the liqueur and leave to sit for about 15 minutes.  Add the rosé and mint simple syrup and gently stir.  Refrigerate until ready to serve.

Before serving, add the soda and gently stir. Serve over lots of ice with a sprig of mint and a few melon balls in each glass.

Serves 6- 8

Zucchini Lemon Muffin Gems

Classic zucchini bread is a summer staple for anyone who has a garden or frequents the farmers market.  I always seem to have one extra zucchini lying around.  But I find the typical spiced zucchini bread recipe, though delicious, a little heavy in summer, so I adapted a classic English lemon drizzle bread recipe to include zucchini in cute little mini-bite form. These little gems have the summery fresh taste of zucchini and mint nicely balanced with lemon zest and juice.  The muffins themselves are not too sweet, but the zippy, sugary glaze adds a nice touch. Using granulated sugar gives the glaze a little crunch. I grate the zucchini, with the peel intact, on the fine holes of a box grater – thickly grated zucchini turns out too stringy and overpowers the light taste.

Zucchini Lemon Gems

For the muffins:

2 eggs

1/2 cup canola oil

2/3 cup sugar

1/2 cup buttermilk

Zest of 1 lemon

2 Tablespoons lemon juice

1 Tablespoon fresh chopped mint leaves

1 cup grated zucchini (about 1 medium zucchini)

2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

For the glaze:

3 Tablespoons lemon juice

5 Tablespoons granulated sugar

Preheat the oven to 350°.  Grease 30 mini-muffin cups.

In a large bowl, beat the eggs then stir in the oil, sugar and buttermilk until well blended.  Add the lemon juice and zest, the zucchini and chopped mint.  Stir until blended.  Add the flour, baking powder and salt and stir until just blended, with no streaks of flour left.

Spoon the batter into muffin tins, filling them almost full.  I think these are cute with a little overflow, and that creates more surface for the sweet sugar glaze.  Bake for 10 – 12 minutes until a tester inserted in the center comes out clean.

While the muffins are cooking, mix the sugar and lemon juice for the glaze in a small bowl.  The sugar should not dissolve completely.

Leave the muffins to cool in the tin for a few minutes, then remove to a wire rack set over paper or foil to catch drips.  Stir the glaze to blend, then spoon it over the muffins while they are still hot.  Cool the muffins and enjoy!

Makes 30 mini-muffins

Watermelon, Cucumber and Mint Sorbet

I generally think a cold slice of watermelon is the most refreshing treat on a hot summer’s day. I also cool myself off with a tall glass of water infused with cucumber. Blend these two together, add the summer taste of fresh mint and freeze them and consider yourself refreshed. This is just plain good, but also makes an elegant simple dessert for a dinner party. And you can even make a Southern sgroppino, the Italian cocktail, topping a scoop of sorbet in a wine glass with sparkling prosecco.

This sometimes yields more sorbet base than fits in my ice cream maker. If this happens to you, you can make another small batch, or mix it half-and-half with tea.

Watermelon, Cucumber and Mint Sorbet

3 cups water
1 cup sugar
Large bunch of fresh mint
3 cups seeded watermelon chunks
1 cup peeled cucumber chunks, seeded

Stir the sugar and water together in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Boil, stirring a few times, just until the sugar is dissolved. Remove from the heat and drop in 3 stems of mint. Leave to cool. Remove the mint stems.

Process the watermelon and cucumber chunks in a blender with the sugar syrup and ¼ cup mint leaves. You may need to do this in several batches. Pour through a strainer into a bowl, pressing out as much pulp as possible. Chill for a couple of hours or until very cold. Pour the sorbet mixture into the bowl of an ice cream maker and freeze according to manufacturer instructions. Scoop into a freezer container and freeze for several hours until firm.

Makes about ½ gallon

Fresh Basil Aioli

Aioli is the creamy, garlicky mayonnaise of Provence, traditionally made in a mortar and pestle.  But the food processor makes this a quick, easy delight. Add a hit of fresh basil, and it is a fresh summer tomato’s best friend. Good on a simple sandwich or just spread on a thick slice.  It also makes an amazing dip for a beautifully colorful display of summer vegetables.

I know you will be tempted, but do not skip the step of blanching the basil. It brings out the flavor of the basil, and prevents it from turning black and unattractive when being chopped. I find it easiest to leave the leaves on a stem and simply dip it in the boiling water.  And the pot isn’t dirty, just rinse it out.  I use a mix of olive and canola oil, because I find that using olive oil alone masks the fresh basil flavor.

Fresh Basil Aioli

1 stem of basil, with at least six big leaves

1 small clove garlic

1 egg

1 Tablespoon fresh-squeezed lemon juice

1 teaspoon kosher salt

½ cup extra virgin olive oil

½ cup canola oil

Bring a small pot of water to a boil.  When it is at a nice rolling boil, dip the basil stem in and count to 20.  You’ll start to smell a nice wafting basil fragrance. Pull it out, then place on a paper towel and squeeze out the moisture. Pull off six large leaves and place in the bowl of a food processor.

Put the garlic clove through a press, or very finely chop it with a sharp knife, pressing it to almost a paste.  Place it in the food processor with the basil, add the egg, lemon juice and salt.  Pulse until the basil is chopped and the mixture is creamy.  Turn the processor on and drizzle in the oils (measure them together in one measuring jug).  Process until the mixture is creamy, thick and emulsified.  You will actually hear the food processor change sounds from smooth blending to a wet slapping sound.

When the aioli is thick, scrape it into a container, cover it tightly and refrigerate for at least two hours to firm up and allow the flavors to meld.  The aioli will keep covered in the fridge for three days.

Makes 1 ¼ cups

Blueberry Yogurt Bake

This is perfect simple summer dish that takes just moments to prepare.  I usually have plain Greek yogurt in my fridge, so it’s a great way to use up that last little cup of berries in the fridge.  You could even combine blueberries and raspberries if you have those around.  I love the simple, fresh flavor of this, but a dash of vanilla or a sprinkle of nutmeg would not go amiss.

This is not a super sweet dish, but makes a great light dessert.  You could certainly serve this at breakfast as well. Give it a good dousing with powdered sugar and, if you’d like, an extra drizzle of honey.  Served warm, it is light and airy, but chilled leftovers take on a cheesecake-like quality.

Blueberry Yogurt Bake

1 cup fresh blueberries

4 eggs

1 cup plain Greek yogurt, whole or fat-free

4 Tablespoons honey

3 Teaspoons cornstarch

Powdered sugar

Preheat oven to 325°. Grease a 9-inch pie plate.

Rinse the blueberries and pat them dry gently.

Whisk the eggs in a bowl. Add the yogurt, honey and cornstarch and whisk until smooth. Spread half the berries in the pie plate, the pour over the yogurt mixture.  Move some berries to the center if they drift to the edges.  Sprinkle the remaining berries over the yogurt, distributing evenly.

Bake for 25 – 20 minutes until the edges are golden and the center is firm and doesn’t wobble any more.  Leave to cool for 3 minutes, then sprinkle generously with powdered sugar.  Serve immediately, scooped onto plate or into bowls.

Serves 6