When I think of really old Southern recipes, spoon bread always comes to mind. I really have no particular knowledge of its history, its just that first time I ever had it was on a school trip to Colonial Williamsburg where it is served at Christiana Campbell’s Tavern by costumed and in-character servers. I assume everything else at Williamsburg is so accurate, that this must be a colonial recipe. I love Williamsburg, and no small part of that is the food, and I have enjoyed the spoon bread on many subsequent visits.
Working on the theory that bacon makes everything better, I added a little bit to my classic spoon bread recipe. The creamy, light cornbread-soufflé hybrid is perfect with the addition of a little crunch. But it occurred to me that spoon bread could be taken out of the realm of simple side with the addition of a little saucy extra. This bacon-onion-tomato mixture is one I have been whipping up with leftover bits and pieces for years, but finally decided was worthy of a recipe.
And no, I do not think this is too much bacon. It is actually very well balanced. But of course, these two dishes stand alone wonderfully well. The spoon bread as a side with stick ribs or grilled foods or as part of a breakfast spread. And the jam, which makes more than you need for the spoon bread, is wonderful on burgers or a grilled cheese sandwich.
Bacon Spoon Bread
6 strips of bacon
1 ½ cups cornmeal
3 teaspoons sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1½ cup water
2 Tablespoons butter
1 ½ cups milk
1 Tablespoon baking powder
Cut the bacon into small pieces and cook in a skillet until crispy. Transfer with a slotted spoon to paper towels to drain. Reserve 1 Tablespoon bacon grease
Mix the cornmeal, sugar and salt together in the bowl of an electric mixer. Bring the water, butter and 1 Tablespoon bacon grease to a boil in a pan. Turn on the mixer and pour the boiling water into the cornmeal. Beat until thick and stiff. Let cool for about 10 minutes.
Measure the milk in a 4-cup jug, then crack in the eggs and beat well. Beat the milk and eggs into the cornmeal mush, then fold in add the bacon pieces and beat until combined. Beat in the baking powder until well blended, then scrape the spoon bread into the baking dish. Bake for 30 – 40 minutes, until the center is set. Serve immediately with spoonfuls of Tomato Bacon Jam.
Serves 4 – 6
6 strips of bacon
2 pounds tomatoes, chopped
1 small white onion, finely chopped
½ cup white sugar
½ cup light brown sugar
3 Tablespoons cider vinegar
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon ground black pepper
Cut the bacon into small pieces and cook in a skillet until crispy. Transfer with a slotted spoon to paper towels to drain.
In a large, high-sided saucepan, bring the chopped tomatoes, onion, sugars, vinegar, salt and pepper to a boil. Boil for about 10 minutes, until the tomatoes are soft and breaking down. Use a spatula or the back of the spoon to crush the tomatoes, though I like to give the jam a little whirl with an immersion blender at this point to create a rough puree. Reduce the heat to medium-low, stir in the bacon pieces and simmer until the jam is thick and spreadable, about an hour or more. Stir occasionally to prevent scorching on the bottom of the pan. As the jam thickens, watch it more closely and stir often to prevent burning. The jam will be done when you pull a spatula through to expose the bottom of the pan and the two sides don’t run together.
Scoop the jam into jars or a bowl and leave to cool. The jam will keep covered in the fridge for more than a week.
Makes 1 pint
Tabbouleh is the perfect summer farmers market dish – fresh herbs and vegetables tossed with fine grains for a fresh, cool salad. But has always been underwhelming to me. Too bland, too dry, I don’t know. I’ve always wanted to love it, but never had.
Until a conversation at a party about family recipes. A lovely woman from Mississippi was telling me about some of her family’s traditional Lebanese dishes, filtered through generations in the Missisippi Delta. She mentioned in passing that her family always soak the bulgur in lemon juice. That idea stuck with me as a way to pep up the dish. And it does. This version of tabbouleh is bright with lemon juice, really tart and unique. I love lots of fresh herbs, but have added a few spices for a little flair. So now I like tabbouleh – my way. I make this for parties and cook outs, but also just to keep a bowl in the fridge for quick lunches and snacks.
But here’s the thing about tabbouleh. This is my blueprint, lifted from someone else’s recipe. You can do what you want. More tomatoes or cucumbers, no garlic, a little chopped hot pepper. What you find at your market or in the garden. I do offer some hints. I like to give my knife and board a workout and finely chop all the ingredients, so each bite has a good mix of flavors, rather than a big chunk of tomato or cucumber or a big parsley leaf. With all the lemony tang, I’ve never really thought this needed salt, but do as you will.
Summer Market Tabbouleh
½ cup fine bulgur wheat
¼ cup lemon juice
2 plum tomatoes
1 cucumber, seed scooped out
1 green onions, white and light green parts
1 small garlic clove
½ cup fresh flat leaf parsley leaves
½ cup fresh mint leaves
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
2 Tablespoons olive oil
¼ teaspoon sumac
1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon coriander
Place the bulgur in a bowl. Then mix the lemon juice and ¾ cup water in a pan and bring to a boil. Pour the liquid over the bulgur and give it a good stir. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and set aside for 15 minutes.
While the bulgur is soaking, finely chop the tomato, cucumber, green onions and place in a large bowl. Pass the garlic clove through a press into the bowl, or chop it to a fine paste on a board and add it. Finely chop the herbs and add to the bowl. Add the olive oil, sumac, cinnamon and coriander to the bowl and stir well to blend everything. Set aside.
When the fifteen minutes have passed, uncover the bulgur and fluff with a fork. If there is any liquid in the bowl or the bulgur seems wet, place it on a fine sieve and press out any liquid. Return to the bowl and fluff with the fork. Leave the bulgur to cool for about 5 minutes.
Scrape the bulgur into the tomato cucumber mix and use a fork to mix everything together, breaking up any clumps in the bulgur and scraping the sides and the bottom of the bowl. Cover the bowl again and refrigerate for a few hours to let the flavors meld.
Serves 4 as a side dish, easily doubles.
My go to baked bean dish for many years has been my Brilliant Baked Beans made with a variety of canned beans. And I love those beans. But eventually, I started fiddling around with dried beans to recreate memories of New England style baked beans I’d enjoyed when I lived in the area. I like those too. Then I started to find fresh shelly beans and October beans at my local farmers market and decided I could surely make a delicious Southern-style version for summer cook-outs. So now this is my favorite baked bean dish. For summer, when I get fresh beans. In winter, I still make maple syrup rich beans from dried yellow-eyes, and the canned version when I want a large quantity quick. In short, yeah, I like baked beans.
The shelly beans that are sold around here are plump with a lovely burgundy speckled-surface. They are similar to borlotti or cranberry beans, which you may find at gourmet markets.
Southern Baked Shelly Beans
1 pound fresh shelly beans
½ a Vidalia onion
4 ounces salt pork (or bacon)
2 bay leaves
2 garlic cloves
½ cup sorghum
½ cup dark brown sugar
¼ cup cider vinegar
2 Tablespoons bourbon
1 teaspoon mustard powder
Soak the beans in cold water for 30 minutes. Scoop out any beans that float and discard. Use your hands to scoop the beans into a large pot. This way, any dirt and grit stays in the bowl. Pick over the beans and remove any discolored or shrunken beans
Cover the beans with fresh cold water by 2 inches. Peel the onion and cut in half vertically. If you leave the stem intact, just pulling off any hairy bits, the onion will hold together better during cooking. Tuck the onion half, salt pork, garlic and bay leaves down into the beans. Bring to a boil, skim off any foam that rises, then reduce the heat to medium low. Cover the pot and simmer the beans for 45 minutes.
Mix the sorghum, brown sugar, vinegar, bourbon and mustard into a thick paste in a small bowl. Scrape the paste into the beans, stir gently to combine, cover the pot and simmer for a further 2 hours.
Stir in salt to taste and cook the beans uncovered until the sauce is thick and reduced and the beans are tender.
Fennel is a new addition to my local farmers market. That’s the great thing about the rise of these local markets. Customers ask, farmers grow. Last year, it was a few experimental bulbs, this year it’s big bins of them. When I saw them last year, I was quick to pick up as many as I could and start experimenting. I love adding fennel to the vegetables that start a soup or casserole or sauce – a bit in with the carrots, celery and onion. It adds an interesting undernote. But I had never really ventured into featuring fennel as a main ingredient until I found it tender and fresh and fragrant on the farmstand.
I have had a roasted fennel gratin at a restaurant that was basically wedges of fennel tossed in olive oil with a shower of breadcrumbs. Not interesting enough for me. The recipes I looked at were mostly similar and the ones with cream sauce seemed to have a lot of cream sauce – the fennel would be swimming. So I fiddled around for what I was imagining. When I have the freshest fennel, I want to highlight its unique flavor, so I ignored recipes that had additions of mustard, onion, garlic and shallot. I want the bracing flavor of fennel to really shine. A touch of the acid tang of white wine complements the fennel and a slight dusting with salty Parmesan rounds it out. Cooking mellows the fennel, rendering it sweeter but still with that special flavor.
This dish is lovely. I’ve eaten it on its own with a chunk of bread, but it pairs so well with a grilled steak or a delicate piece of fish. The smell of sliced fresh fennel is spectacular.
Creamy Fennel Gratin
I prefer the Parmesan and breadcrumbs to be very fine, like a light dust on top of the gratin. I grate day-old bread on a fine grater.
6 cups thinly sliced fennel (see note)
1 Tablespoon butter
1 Tablespoon flour
½ cup white wine
1 cup heavy cream
2 Tablespoons chopped fennel frond (the feathery leaves)
¼ cup finely grated parmesan cheese
¼ cup fresh, finely grated bread crumbs
salt to taste
Preheat the oven to 350°. Butter an 8 by 8 inch baking dish
Cut the thick stalks and fronds form the fennel bulbs and remove the tough end and any tough, blemished outer leaves. Slice the fennel bulb thinly using a mandolin or the food processor, about 1/8 inch thick.
Melt the butter in a saucepan large enough to hold the sliced fennel. Whisk in the flour until you have a smooth, pale paste. Pour in the wine and heavy cream (measure them together in the same jug) and whisk until the sauce begins to thicken. Stir in one Tablespoon of the chopped fennel frond and cook until the sauce is thick and coats the back of the spoon. Stir in the sliced fennel and a few generous pinches of salt and stir to coat. Scrape the fennel into the prepared baking dish and spread it out into an even layer.
Mix the breadcrumbs, parmesan and remaining chopped fennel fron together. Sprinkle evenly over the top of the gratin. Bake the gratin for 30 – 40 minutes until a knife slides easily into a piece of the fennel. Serve hot.
Serves 4 – 6
Note: I created this recipe to make the most of fresh, young tender fennel. I use about 6 bulbs that are pale green and about 4 inches across. If you use the mature, white fennel common at grocery stores, you will probably need about 3 bulbs. The young fennel can be sliced right through, but the larger white bulbs need to be halved and the triangular hard core cut out. The large bulbs may need a longer cooking time as well.
The first spring weekend of farmers market season is exciting. I am ready for all that fresh produce with a new treat arriving each week and little surprises on every visit. I know that I am closer to juicy strawberries, my first tomato in months, bright, sweet corn and so many things. I know it is all about to start. But in reality, that first Saturday is a little sparse. The greens lingering from winter, a few spring flowers, but not the spectacular array soon to come. S on the first market day this year, I came away mostly with baked goods and a restock on pastured meat. Not a huge haul, but still a fun trip.
As I unpacked my oilcloth market bag at home, I took stock of my purchases and realized I had leeks, bacon, eggs and goat cheese. Flamiche! In the fridge I had some local milk and cream, and with a quickly made piecrust, I was ready for a very elegant, locally sourced spring lunch.
This quiche-like tart is a traditional Belgian dish, with the old-world flavors of smoky bacon, salty goat cheese and jammy leeks. When I buy leeks fresh from the farmer, there are sometimes a few very thin pencil leeks in the bunch. I like to press them into the top of the filling before baking, because it is such a lovely presentation. You can slice right through them or pull them off before serving. I like the look of my square tart pan, but round is beautiful too.
Belgian Leek, Goat Cheese and Bacon Tart
If you buy your leeks from a farmers market and they are thinner than grocery store varieties, you will need more.
1 pie crust for a 9-inch pie
2 large leeks or 3 medium (4 cups sliced), white and pale green parts only
¼ cup butter
½ cup water
8 strips of bacon
5 ounces soft goat cheese, crumbled
½ cup whole milk
½ cup heavy cream
1 large egg
1 egg yolk
½ teaspoon ground black pepper
Fit the prepared crust into a 9-inch tart pan with a removable bottom.
Slice the white and pale green part of the leeks in half lengthwise, then slice each half into thin half circles. Place the leeks in a large bowl of cold water and swirl around with your hands, shuffling to separate the layers of leek. Leave for a few minutes to let any dirt settle to the bottom of a bowl. In a medium saucepan, melt the butter over medium low heat. Scoop the leeks out of the water and shake to drain somewhat (do not pour the leeks and water into a strainer, the dirt will just fall back on the leeks) then add to the melted butter. Stir to coat and then stir in the ½ cup water. Cook for a few minutes, until the leeks begin to reduce in bulk, then cover, lower the heat to low and cook for 20- 25 minutes until the leeks are soft and semi-translucent. Stir occasionally during cooking and add a drop or two more water as needed. Do not let the leeks brown. When the leeks are soft and pale, uncover and cook a few minutes more until any liquid has evaporated. Set aside to cool. (The leeks can be made up to two days ahead and refrigerated, tightly covered, until ready to use).
While the leeks are cooling, cook the bacon until crisp and drain on paper towels. Preheat the oven to 400°. Spread the cooled leeks evenly over the bottom of the prepared tart crust, smoothing the top. Crumble the goat cheese and sprinkle over the top of the leeks. Chop the bacon into small pieces and sprinkle in the tart. In a small bowl or 4 cup measuring jug, whisk together the milk, cream, whole egg, yolk and pepper. Pour this custard over the filling in the tart. Carefully transfer to the oven and bake for 20 – 25 minutes or until the center is set and the top is golden brown.
Serve warm or at room temperature.
I doubt this a traditional Irish dish at all, but when I was whipping up a pot of Irish Stew, I wanted a nice, cheese-y accompaniment. Welsh Rarebit is the great British snack of a beer-laced cheese sauce on crusty bread, so I figured I give it a go with Guinness. These are perfect with the stew, but also make a nice treat on their own as a snack, or a light lunch or supper beside a big salad. And they’d be pretty good with Corned Beef and Cabbage Cooked in Beer.
½ cup Guinness or other stout beer
2 Tablespoon butter
2 Tablespoon all-purpose flour
½ cup milk
¼ teaspoon English mustard powder
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
14 ounces sharp white cheddar cheese (preferably Irish), grated
8 slices crusty white bread
flaky sea salt, like Maldon
Pour the Guinness into your measuring jug and let the foam settle. You want ½ cup minus the foam.
Melt the butter in a medium saucepan, then whisk in the flour until you have a smooth paste and it is pale in color. Whisk in the milk and Guinness and stir until thick, smooth and creamy. Stir in the mustard powder and Worcestershire. Add the cheese a handful at a time, stirring to melt completely after each addition. When all the cheese is melted and the sauce is smooth, set it aside to cool down and firm up a little.
Preheat the broiler to high. Line a baking sheet with foil or parchment paper. Slice the bread into thick slices. Use a spoon to spread a thick layer of cheese sauce on each slice. Sprinkle the tops with salt and place on the baking sheet. Broil the rarebits until the cheese is bubbling and browned in spots, about 6 minutes. Watch very carefully.
Let the rarebits sit a few minutes, then slice each piece in half and serve.
Part of the joy of Thanksgiving for me is the leftovers. I cook a turkey bigger than my family could ever eat on the day, I make huge amounts of dressing, I even cram some in a loaf pan to bake so it can be sliced to fit on a sandwich. My shopping lists include good bread, cheese and condiments for next day sandwiches. I’ve made Fig, Bourbon and Vanilla Bean Jam and Rosemary Pear Butter months ahead to spread on those sandwiches. After the fun of a formal meal, it’s nice to gather the next day (usually at someone else’s house, lucky me) very casually, in jeans and comfy sweaters, to enjoy our own sandwich creations.
If the leftovers are a big part of your tradition, or if you have guests around the house through the weekend, add this salad to your plans. As long as you are buying (and peeling) all those sweet potatoes for the big meal, it’s worth the little extra effort to have this stashed in the fridge. It is an absolute dream next to a turkey sandwich, better than a bag of chips, and looks like you really went that extra mile. Earthy sweet potatoes, crunchy pecans, tart cranberries and rich maple syrup create a symphony of fall flavor. If your fridge is full to bursting, you can store this in a ziptop bag in a crisper drawer to take up less room.
A word about process. Don’t be tempted to do that TV chef-y thing and put the potato cubes directly on the baking sheet, casually drizzle over oil and roast. When you do that, there is inevitably too much oil, and the potatoes steam rather than roast, so they don’t get those nice, crisp edges, but are mushy and soft. Lightly toss the potatoes with a small amount of oil in a bowl, rubbing around with your hands to get a little coating on each cube, then lift the potatoes out of the bowl onto a baking sheet (I line mine with non-stick foil for easy cleaning), leaving any extra oil behind. I do this with all my roasted vegetables,
Autumn Sweet Potato Salad
2 ½ pounds sweet potatoes (about 4 medium)
1/3 cup plus 2 Tablespoons olive oil, divided
¼ cup maple syrup (grade B amber)
¼ cup apple cider vinegar
1 Tablespoon Dijon mustard
3 – 4 fresh sage leaves
½ teaspoon kosher salt
¼ teaspoon cinnamon
Ground black pepper
4 green onions, white and some dark green parts, finely chopped
2/3 cup chopped pecans, lightly toasted
2/3 cup dried cranberries
Preheat the oven to 350°.
Peel the sweet potatoes and cut into ½ inch pieces. You want them to be bite-sized and roughly the same size so they roast evenly. Toss the potato cubes with the 2 Tablespoons olive oil and a pinch of salt. Use your hands to make sure every potato cube has just a slick of oil on it. Lift the potatoes out of the bowl onto a rimmed baking sheet. Roast them for 25 – 30 minutes, until a knife easily slides into a potato piece. You want them to be cooked through but not mushy. They should still hold their shape and have a little bite. Cool the potatoes to room temperature.
Put the mustard, maple syrup, vinegar, sage, cinnamon, salt and pepper in a blender and blend until smooth. With the motor running, drizzle in the remaining 1/3 cup olive oil until you have a creamy, emulsified dressing.
When the potatoes are cool, gently toss them with the chopped green onions, pecans and cranberries. Pour over the dressing and toss until all the potatoes are coated. It’s fine if you prefer not to use all the dressing, but reserve the remainder in case you want to add some later.
Refrigerate the potato salad, tightly covered, for several hours or up to a few days.
Sweet potatoes are a foregone conclusion on the Southern Thanksgiving table. I would never consider serving mashed white potatoes at the big meal. For most of my life, I only had sweet potatoes at Thanksgiving, though a pie may have snuck in at some other time during the year. I have now discovered the joy of sweet potatoes, though, and eat them year-round in all sorts of ways, sweet and savory. But on Thanksgiving, there is just no question.
I grew up with the marshmallow topped version, which never really did much for me. I think that may be the reason I never explored sweet potatoes much further. When it came my turn to contribute to the Thanksgiving feast though, I worked out a dish of Sweet Potatoes with Cider, Maple and Orange that has been the standard on our table for many years. But every once in a while, change is good. There is however, a strange feeling that comes up. I’ve made that same sweet potato dish for a decade at least, and everyone always tells me how much they enjoy it. And when I presented this new version, it got raves. “Best sweet potatoes I’ve ever had.” I love it when the family enjoys what you cook and take great pleasure that I have done right by them. But then there is that niggling sense in the back of your mind…”What was so bad about the ones I’ve been cooking you for all these years….”
Southern Candied Sweet Potato Casserole with Pecan Streusel
Yes, these potatoes are rich. I don’t want to hear it. It’s Thanksgiving, live a little!
For the Sweet Potatoes:
8 medium sweet potatoes
½ cup (1 stick) butter
1 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1 cup bourbon
¼ cup cane syrup or sorghum
2 teaspoons salt
½ cup cream
For the Streusel:
1 cup pecans, toasted and coarsely chopped
2/3 cup white sugar
6 tablespoons dark brown sugar, packed
1/4 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup all-purpose flour
2/3 cup chilled unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
For the Sweet Potatoes:
Peel the potatoes and slice them ¼” thick ( a mandoline or food processor makes quick work of this). Melt the butter with the brown sugar, bourbon, cane syrup and salt in a large skillet that will hold the potatoes, stirring frequently. Bring to a boil and cook for 5 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat, drop in the potato slices and stir to coat. Layer one half of the potato slices in a well-greased 9 by 13 inch baking dish. Pour over half of the syrup from the skillet. Layer the remaining potatoes in the dish and pour over the rest of the syrup.
The potatoes can be cooled, covered tightly and refrigerated overnight at this point. When ready to bake, remove form the fridge for at least 15 minutes.
For the Streusel:
In a food processor, process the sugars, the cinnamon, salt and flour for about 1 minute. Add butter; pulse 10 to 15 times, until the mixture is crumbly. Stir in the pecans. Refrigerate the topping, covered, in a medium bowl until ready to use. It can be made up to a day ahead.
When ready to bake, heat the oven to 350°. Pour the ½ cup cream over the potatoes, drizzling it into all the nooks and crannies. Spread the streusel evenly over the top of the potatoes. Bake the casserole for one hour, until the potatoes are soft and you can slide a knife easily through the center, the sides are bubbling and the streusel is golden brown. You can cover the dish loosely with foil if you feel the top is getting too brown too early.
Serves 8 – 12, depending on how much food is on the table!
There is perhaps no better accompaniment to a summer barbecue or picnic than a good potato salad. But there are a lot of bad potato salads out there. And I have never been a huge fan of mayonnaise-only potato salads. To me, they tend to be heavy and gloopy and no one wants to eat one that’s been sitting around in the warm weather. And I also prefer a minimum of add-ins. I have seen potato salads over the years with so many extra ingredients it’s hard to find the potatoes. Good potatoes, good dressing and a little texture and color are all that’s really needed.
The small potatoes I find at the farmers market are creamy and lovely and perfect for salad, as they retain their shape and are packed with flavor. A tangy mustard dressing with just a hint of cream is perfect with a sprinkling of herbs. And what can I say about bacon? Perfect with potatoes for added crunch and smoky flavor. Vinegar in the cooking water and drizzled over the cooked potatoes adds a level of flavor and saltiness it’s hard to achieve after the fact.
Mustard and Bacon Potato Salad
4 pounds small potatoes (I like to use a mixture of red-skinned and yellow potatoes)
1 cup white vinegar, divided
8 strips of bacon
3 Tablespoons chopped chives
3 Tablespoons chopped parsley, preferably flat-leaf
2 Tablespoons Dijon mustard
2 Tablespoons whole-grain mustard
4 Tablespoons bacon drippings
4 Tablespoons heavy cream
Salt to taste
Scrub the potatoes well and cut them into bite-sized pieces, all about the same size so they cook evenly. Place the potatoes in a large Dutch oven and cover with water by about 1 inch. Add ¾ cup of the vinegar and bring to a boil. Cook the potatoes until tender when pierced with a sharp knife, about 15 minutes. You want your potatoes cooked through and soft, but not falling apart.
Drain the potatoes in a colander, and return to the pan. Pour over the remaining ¼ cup vinegar and gently stir to coat the potatoes. Leave to cool.
Cook the bacon until crispy, drain on paper towels and reserve 4 Tablespoons of bacon fat. Chop the bacon into small pieces and add to the cooled potatoes in the pot. Toss in the chopped chives and chopped parsley and gently stir to combine. Be gentle so the potatoes don’t get roughed up.
In a small bowl whisk together the mustards. Add the bacon fat and whisk until combined. Add the heavy cream and whisk until completely combined and smooth. Pour the dressing over the potatoes, scraping the bowl, and stir gently to coat thoroughly. Taste and add salt if you think you need it.
Spoon the potato salad into a serving bowl, scraping all the good stuff out of the pot and give it one last stir. Refrigerate for at least two hours to chill and allow the flavors to blend, but the salad can be made up to a day ahead and kept covered in the fridge.
I was standing in my kitchen, on a Saturday after my farmers market run, putting everything in its proper place while I made my plan of attack for the day. Stacked up on the counter were a dozen ears of corn, destined to be blanched, stripped and frozen in little baggies. Next to that was a lovely bag of freshly ground Delta Grind grits, also destined for the freezer. It was such a lovely tableau. As I went about my business, peeling tomatoes for tomato butter, soaking field peas to be pickled and starting a batch of peach-basil jam, with fig, bourbon and vanilla bean jam already simmering in the crockpot, I just kept thinking about that corn and those grits and how good they would be together. I decided I’d whip a batch of plain grits and stir in some kernels for dinner. But as the day progressed, I just kept thinking there must be some really creative way to meld the flavors. As I peeled peaches, diced onions, chopped basil, shucked corn, I just couldn’t get it out of my mind. I went to the freezer to make room for my next additions and realized I already had quite a lot of corn in there, so maybe I should whip up a batch of fresh corn buttermilk biscuit dough for the freezer. That’s when it hit me. My secret to those lovely biscuits – pureed fresh corn – would add that layer of corn freshness to a pot of grits. I was right. I started with a small portion, just to serve myself, and frankly ate that for dinner with some field peas the next weekend, and another night as well. So I set to work refining and codifying the recipe, and here it is.
These grits have the wonderful, soft creaminess you look for in grits, with that lovely texture and bite that comes from traditional stone-ground varieties. I highly recommend you seek them out. Adding the pureed corn to the cooking liquid creates a sweet, fresh undertone that is bright with corn flavor. The kernels stirred in cook just enough to release their own sweet secret, while adding an extra layer of texture and bite. Serve these for breakfast or as a side to a roasted or grilled pork loin. And I can’t help think these would make a truly special base for shrimp and grits.
Fresh Corn Grits
4 ears fresh corn, shucked and silked
1 ½ cups whole milk
2 cups chicken broth
¼ cup butter
1 Tablespoon salt
1 cup stone ground yellow grits
Butter, for serving
Cut the kernels off two cobs of corn and place them in a blender with 1 cup of the milk and blend to a fine puree. Really give it some time in the blender; you want it as smooth as you can make it. Pour the puree through a strainer into a large Dutch oven, pressing to get out all the liquid. Stir in the remaining milk, add broth, butter and salt and bring to a boil over medium high heat. Be generous with the salt, it is hard to get grits properly salted after they are cooked. Whisk the grits into the boiling liquid, reduce the heat to medium low and simmer stirring frequently. Cut the kernels off the remaining 2 cobs of corn, and stir them in while the grits are cooking. Cook, stirring frequently to keep the grits from sticking until most of the liquid is absorbed and the grits are tender, but with a little bite. Be careful while you are stirring, grits spit, so stand back aways.
Serve immediately with a good pat of better melting over the top.
Serves 4, or 6 as a side