Southern Love+ Italian Cuisine= Pure Heaven

This dish combines my love for both Southern and Italian cuisine, and, not to mention, it was made by complete happenstance. I was making fried okra as a snack one day (don’t judge me) and I was prepping pizza dough for dinner as well. I glanced at my working station and saw fresh dough, heirloom tomatoes and fried okra. Could this really work? Allowing my curiosity to wonder, I rolled out the dough, laid fresh tomatoes on the surface and dotted handmade mozzarella underneath the orbs. I let the ingredients bubble for a few minutes in the oven and then threw the fried okra on the pizza. What a sensation! The creamy cheese contrasted with the crunchy okra while the tomatoes added a level of lightness and freshness that the dish craved. This pizza combines seasonal Southern ingredients with Italian tradition. Boun appetito, ya’ll!

Recipe: Makes 4 Individual Pizzas

4 Portions of Basic Pizza Dough

Pizza sauce (recipe below)

2 tomatoes, sliced into rounds

8 ounces of fresh mozzarella

1 serving of fried okra, cut at an angle (recipe below)

Fresh chopped basil and parsley, for garnish

Salt and pepper

Parmesan cheese, for serving

To make the pizza:

Preheat oven to 5000 with a pizza stone in the oven (Make sure that your oven is clean or else the fire department might be inviting themselves over for dinner). Let the stone preheat for at least 45 minutes in the oven.

On a piece of aluminum foil dusted with flour, roll out 1 portion of dough. Create a thin layer of sauce, place tomato rounds on the pizza and place small, marble-sized pieces of mozzarella underneath the tomatoes. Place in oven for 10 minutes. Scatter the fried okra pieces on top of the pizza and season with herbs, salt and pepper. Repeat with the rest of the dough.

Pizza Sauce:

2 Tbs. of olive oil

2 garlic cloves, sliced

1 pinch of red pepper flakes

1 28 oz. can of whole San Marzano tomatoes, hand crushed

1 pinch of sugar

1 sprig of basil, leaves only

Salt and pepper to taste

In a sauté pan on medium temperature, heat olive oil. Add sliced garlic and red pepper flakes and cook for 30 seconds or just until golden. Add the tomatoes and season with salt and pepper. Add sugar. Bring to slight boil and let simmer for 30 minutes. Take off heat and add basil leaves. Set aside.

Fried Okra:

2 cups of okra, washed

2 cups of buttermilk

1 cup of cornmeal

¼ cup of all-purpose flour

1 pinch of cayenne

Vegetable oil (for frying)

Salt and pepper to taste

Place at least 2 inches of vegetable oil in a large skillet and allow the oil to reach 350o.

Pick through the okra, any okra smaller than the size of your pinky, leave whole. Cut any larger than the size of your pinky in half and at an angle. In a bowl, combine the buttermilk and okra. Let sit for at least 5 minutes. Meanwhile, prepare the cornmeal mixture. Combine cornmeal, flour, cayenne, salt and pepper in a shallow dish. Stir ingredients together with a fork. Make sure that you put a good amount of seasoning in at this point, don’t be stingy. Drain the okra from the buttermilk and gently roll the okra in the cornmeal mixture. Shake off any excess breading. Carefully place the okra in the hot oil. Let the okra brown on both sides and place on a plate lined with a paper towel to drain. Sprinkle with more salt. Use immediately.

An Enchanted Tomato Sandwich

First of all, I must say thank you to Bon Appétit for posting my open-faced tomato sandwich on The Feed here, along with many other talented readers. Thank you!

There are many forms of cruel and unusual punishment in this harsh world, but none come close to eating a sandwich left in a plastic bag in the Louisiana heat until high noon. There I sat, in my faded jean shorts and favorite Winnie the Pooh tee shirt, staring down my soggy, sorry excuse for a sarnie. I could see the steam from the amalgamation of Wonder bread and humidity as it filled the inside of the plastic bag. Slowly, I opened the curiously terrifying container. One by one, the little snaps of the Ziploc bag crackled away to the force of my fingers and by shear will. And then, the showstopper. The smell of hot, French’s mustard and soggy bread with just a hint of hammy-hammy-ness filled my innocent nostrils. I cringed as if someone had jammed 20 Flintstone vitamins into my mouth, not even the somewhat tolerable orange ones, THE PURPLE ONES.  Reluctantly, I ate my not-so-wonderful-Wonder bread sandwich in pea-sized pieces, while staring sadly at the line of chips and cookies that were strewn across my cafeteria table. Oh how I longed for a Lunchable!

By the time I got home, I was ravenous. Running off the bus and onto the lawn, I threw my backpack into the yard, and I gave a good tug on the screen door of our house. I was in the fridge by the time I heard it close shut. BANG! The cast of characters was meticulously laid out: bread, mayonnaise and freshly cut tomatoes.  Taking one bite of the creamy tomato sandwich magically erased the Hitchcock-level horror from earlier that day. And there I relaxed, sitting in front of the television laughing at an episode of I Love Lucy with a tomato sandwich. Life was good.

This recipe is a more grownup version of my childhood go-to sandwich. It still has the same enchanted effect of changing a terrible day into a great one.

Recipe: Serves 1 Hungry Soul

Toast up 2 pieces of bread. Add 2-3 slabs of feta cheese onto the toast. Add 2 tomato slices on top of the cheese. Sprinkle with salt, pepper and red pepper flakes. Garnish with fresh herbs. Place the second piece of toast on top and enjoy!

 

An Unexpected Southern Cobb Salad

Alabama white sauce. I was first introduced to this sauce at my fiancé Michael’s home (or as I affectionately call him, B.) His mother, Ginny, has deep Alabama roots. Her sweet, Southern accent can brighten even the dullest of conversations. Ginny reflects THE quintessential Southern woman: sweet, charming and hospitable.

One of the first dinners at the Wilsons’ home consisted of a lovely spread of barbecued chicken, baked potatoes and a slew of sides. Bright Fiesta plates were strewn about the table. Sunny pitchers of iced tea and lemonade were at both sides of the table, acting as two twin pillars for our fodder.  The chicken was a beautiful coral color, streaked only by the black marks of the grill. Potatoes steaming like locomotives began the procession for the rest of the sides. In the midst of the colorful parade of fare, I almost missed it. Peeking out from behind the iced tea pitcher was a little, clear plastic container. White, thick sauce peered through the clear container along with a myriad of cracked black pepper flecks. My curiosity began to stir.

After saying the blessing, we all dug into the food and conversation. Moments later, B swiped the container of mystery and shook it vigorously. With reckless abandon, he decanted the fair, thick sauce over everything on his plate. The perky blue Fiesta plate had pools of snowy paste flowing ever which way. He passed the sauce along to me. Not wanting to look like a newbie, I poured a little ravine of sauce, innocently dividing my chicken and potatoes, a gorge that could be easily hidden in case the enigmatic substance wasn’t pleasant to my palate. I eased a piece of chicken into the sauce, dipping its “toes” in first. The sauce was bright, acidic and sweet. Black pepper added an earthy quality to this seemingly simple condiment. It was wonderful. The consistency reminded me of dressing and the taste did as well. I casually asked if anyone had ever tried this as a salad dressing. Conversation halted. Forks dropped. And I believe there was a cricket somewhere in the corner scratching away. It was as if I had asked if I could please take my pants off at the dinner table. Stunned faces looked back at me, and B sweetly stated that it was a barbecue sauce. Utensils began to fly once more and dinner was over. I could not help but think about this sauce being a dressing.

So here it is, slathered onto green leaves, hoping not to offend any Alabamians. And if your argument is that it goes on meat and meat alone, I did add bacon to the salad.

Recipe: Serves 6

2 heads of romaine lettuce, washed and roughly chopped

2 large tomatoes, cut into wedges

1 cucumber, sliced into rounds

2 cups of fried okra (recipe below)

10 slices of bacon, cooked and torn into pieces

5 eggs, boiled, peeled and each cut into 4 equal pieces

Fresh herbs, garnish

Alabama white sauce (recipe below)

Either divide all ingredients into 6 separate dishes and serve dressing on the side or combine in one large bowl and dress with the Alabama white sauce. Enjoy!

Alabama White Sauce:

1 ½ cups of mayonnaise

¼ cup of white vinegar

1-2 tablespoons of cracked black pepper

1 tablespoon of milk, to thin out sauce

Combine all ingredients in a mason jar and shake vigorously. Adjust pepper to taste and let sit in the fridge. The longer the sauce sits in the fridge, the better it tastes! If you want to get adventurous, you can add sugar and/or cayenne pepper!

 Fried Okra:

2 cups of okra, washed

2 cups of buttermilk

1 cup of cornmeal

¼ cup of all-purpose flour

1 pinch of cayenne

Vegetable oil (for frying)

Salt and pepper to taste

Place at least 2 inches of vegetable oil in a large skillet and allow the oil to reach 350o.

Pick through the okra, any okra smaller than the size of your pinky, leave whole. Cut any larger than the size of your pinky in half and at an angle. In a bowl, combine the buttermilk and okra. Let sit for at least 5 minutes. Meanwhile, prepare the cornmeal mixture. Combine cornmeal, flour, cayenne, salt and pepper in a shallow dish. Stir ingredients together with a fork. Make sure that you put a good amount of seasoning in at this point, don’t be stingy. Drain the okra from the buttermilk and gently roll the okra in the cornmeal mixture. Shake off any excess breading. Carefully place the okra in the hot oil. Let the okra brown on both sides and place on a plate lined with a paper towel to drain. Sprinkle with more salt. Use immediately.

 

 

Roasted Salmon

 

 

Thank you so much to Bon Appétit for choosing my salmon photo for the June 2012 Cook the Cover Contest!

Growing up on the coast, there was beautiful and fresh seafood aplenty! This bright dish reminds me of home. Baby tomatoes and garden-picked herbs create a stunning backdrop to this slow roasted buttery salmon. This is the quintessential summer dish!

Here is the link for the slideshow of all the winners posted on both the Facebook page and their website…

http://www.bonappetit.com/blogsandforums/blogs/badaily/2012/06/readers-cook-our-june-salmon.html

Recipe: Serves 2

2 salmon fillets, single servings

3 tablespoons of olive oil

1 bunch of thyme

1 pint of grape tomatoes, split in half

Salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 325o

Place herbs on a piece of foil, place fillets on top of herbs. Cover the salmon with olive oil; making sure all of the fish is covered in oil. Season with salt and pepper. Scatter the tomatoes around the fish and place another piece of foil on top of the salmon. Crimp all of the edges of the foil, creating a packet. Place the foil packet onto a cookie sheet and roast for 25-30 minutes, or until a knife goes through the salmon like butter. Enjoy!

Quesadillas

Growing up in the south, my normal meals consisted of cornbread, gumbo and greens. But whenever I lived in Texas, I was confronted with a different breed of Southern food. Barbecue meant beef instead of pork, the gravy was a peculiar color, a country-fried steak turned into a chicken-fried steak, and Tex-Mex was king. I made the best of it (not that it was a difficult feat). I found that Mexican food could be just as comforting as the Southern cuisine I was used to. The main ingredients are cheese and cheese and butter and cheese. Where can one go wrong? So my sister and I made a tradition out of this fare and went to Rosa’s Tortilla Factory for Taco Tuesday every Tuesday. The best part, we could order whatever our little hearts desired and miraculously never spent more than $5. Oh it was the best for two college gals from the south! Here is to Texas and it’s simple Southern food, and here is to Taco Tuesday! Olé!

Recipe: Serves 6-8

3 boneless skinless chicken breasts, cut into bite sized pieces

Juice of 1 lime

1 Tbs. of olive oil

¼ tsp. of red pepper flakes

2 tsp. of salt

1 tsp. of pepper

3 Tbs. of butter

2 cups of shredded cheddar cheese

18 fresh flour tortillas

Heat non-stick skillet on medium heat and add oil. Mix chicken, seasonings, and lime juice together in a bowl. Add the chicken to the hot skillet. Cook until brown and cooked through. At the last minute of cooking, add 1 tablespoon of butter to the pan and toss with the chicken. Remove chicken from pan and set aside. Clean out skillet. Put the skillet on medium-low heat. Lightly butter both sides of the tortillas, add about 1 tablespoon of cheese, 1 tablespoon of chicken and another tablespoon of cheese. Put filled tortillas in skillet, I can usually fit 4 at a time. Brown one side and flip over to brown the other side. This should only take a few moments. Repeat with remaining tortillas, cheese and chicken. Serve with shredded lettuce and fresh salsa.

 

 

Chicken Parmesan

Chicken Parmesan holds a special place in the hearts of our family.  This dish is on the menu for any special occasion: Valentine’s Day, birthdays, Mother’s Day. There is a lot of love that goes into this meal. Not only is it made in our home, but we also had a special place in Texas where we would all order this dish, Mary’s. Now, understand that the name of the restaurant was La Bistro Italiano, but the piano player was named Mary. Therefore, our family renamed the restaurant Mary’s.  Every Friday and Saturday night, Mary would be there in the corner, tickling the ivories. We would sit there, bobbing our heads (as if that was a substitution for dancing) with smiles on our faces while trying to eat up the Chicken Parmesan as fast as humanly possible. It once served as amuse-bouches as Mary and one of the regulars got into a fight one night. Mary, of course, got the last word, and we held up our chicken and waved it around in her honor.

Recipe: Serves 6-8

1 tablespoon of olive oil

2 garlic cloves, minced

1 pinch of red pepper flakes

2 28oz. cans of whole peeled San Marzano tomatoes, hand crushed

½ cup of chicken stock

2 sprigs of fresh basil

1 ½ cups of flour

1 teaspoon of cayenne

2 cups of panko breadcrumbs

2 tablespoons of fresh parsley, finely chopped

¼ cup of parmesan cheese, shredded

3 eggs, slightly scrambled

¼ cup of milk

4 whole chicken breasts, boneless and skinless, sliced crosswise

3 tablespoons of canola oil

Salt and pepper to taste

In a large saucepan, heat olive oil of medium heat. Add the garlic and red pepper flakes for 30 seconds. Add the tomatoes and cook until the mixture begins to come to a boil. Reduce heat to low and add basil. Season with salt, pepper and add chicken stock. Let sauce cook for at least 45 minutes.

Place chicken in a heavy-duty freezer bag, one piece at a time. With a meat hammer, pound the chicken until about ¼ inch to ½ inch thick. Set up breading station with the flour and cayenne in one dish, eggs and milk in another, and the panko, parsley and parmesan in the last. Season all of the dishes with salt and pepper. Dredge the chicken in the flour, then the eggs and finally the panko. Let the breaded chicken rest on a wire rack over a cookie sheet.

Set a skillet over medium high heat. Coat the bottom of the skillet with a few tablespoons of canola oil. Once the oil starts to smoke, place the chicken in the skillet and sauté until browned on both sides. In a 12×9-baking dish, place 1 cup of the sauce on the bottom of the dish. Place the browned chicken in the baking dish. Top the chicken with more sauce. Place dish into a 375o oven for 25-30 minutes or until the chicken is cooked through all of the way. Serve with angel hair pasta and garnish with parsley.

Crawfish Boil

 

As I look across the ever-flat terrain of the deepest parts of Louisiana, I see the land scattered with four-inch tall crawfish holes. These mounds of mud might seem insignificant, but an immense part of the Louisiana culture lays in these crawfish dwellings. Louisiana produces nearly 50,000 tons of live crawfish a year, which are harvested from November through June. These little critters have become a culinary symbol. The spring and summer months are filled with thick, humid air and the smell of backyard crawfish boils.  Or, if you are between bayous Des Canes and Nezpique, your nose is directed toward D.I.’s Restaurant in Basile, Louisiana. D.I. and his wife Sherry started the restaurant in his farm equipment building and placed an all you can eat spread of boiled crawfish for $5.00. Now, the restaurant seats 275 people and includes  live Cajun bands and a dance floor. People from all over the world, “with the exception of Australia”, says Sherry, have come to visit and engage in the unique Cajun culture. Piles of bright red crawfish cover the tables at D.I.’s, along with laughter, Cajun music and the cracking of shells embody the Cajun tradition.

Crawfish Boil Recipe From John Besh’s My New Orleans

2 cups of salt

1 package of Zatarian’s Crab Boil spices

5 lemons, halved

3 tablespoons of cayenne pepper

5 whole heads of garlic, halved

5 onions, halved

3 stalks of celery, cut into large pieces

3 bell peppers, seeded and diced

¼ cup of canola oil

20 small bliss potatoes

8 ears of corn, shucked and halved

20 pounds of whole crawfish, rinsed with fresh water

Fill a crawfish pot with 10 gallons of water, bring to boil then add the salt, spices, cayenne, garlic, onions, celery, peppers and oil. Reduce to simmer for about 10 minutes. Add the potatoes and corn and simmer for about 15 minutes. Add the crawfish and simmer for another 10 minutes. Turn the heat off and let the mixture sit for about 15 minutes. Strain the liquid from all of the other yummy ingredients. Dump all of the crawfish and vegetables on a platter or newspaper-covered picnic table. Serve with vinegar, salt and pepper mixture.

 

Pasta with Red Sauce

Please don’t tell anyone, but I am in love with Italian food. I didn’t want my first love of Southern food to find out this way. But it noticed my long sighs when I would smell homemade marinara, saw my joy when making fresh pasta, and realized the look in my eyes as I would watch pizza bubbling away in the oven. But I just can’t help it, I swear. There is a certain passion Italians have that reminds me of Southerners. We love life, family and food. Italians, like Southerners pass recipes along from generation to generation, understand the importance of eating off the land and talk feverishly with their hands. But most of all, we love our family. This recipe is a staple in my home. Break out the grape juice with the kids, sing “Mambo Italiano” to the top of your lungs and enjoy a meal with your closest family and friends.

Recipe: Serves 4

2 Tbs. of olive oil

2 garlic cloves, sliced

1 pinch of red pepper flakes

1 28 oz. can of whole San Marzano tomatoes, hand crushed

1 pinch of sugar

2 Tbs. of butter

½ cup of parmesan cheese, grated plus more for serving

½ pound of angel hair pasta, cooked

Salt and pepper to taste

In a sauté pan on medium temperature, heat olive oil. Add sliced garlic and red pepper flakes and cook for 30 seconds or just until golden. Add the tomatoes and season with salt and pepper. Add sugar. Bring to slight boil and let simmer for 30 minutes. Turn off heat, add butter and cheese. Add pasta to the sauce and mix to combine. Check seasoning one last time. Serve with freshly grated parmesan.

Chicken Fricassée

Our story begins in the fantastically small town of Lacassine, Louisiana. Grandma Domingue had a tiny garden laced with fig trees. The summers were filled with air perfumed with honey. There was a stillness, a silence where you could hear your own toes curl the deep, green grass. The scene would be quite picturesque with one exception. If your little feet could make it over to the edge of the property, way in the back, there was a cage and its contents contained the meanest chickens on the face of the earth. They were to be punished, enclosed in wire and fed only corn and water, a prisoners diet. My great grandfather hated one in particular. He hatefully yet adoringly called it Hemorrhoid because this chicken was a pain in his derrière (it sounds better in French, non?). Let’s just say that on one uncharacteristically quiet evening, my family enjoyed a chicken fricassée, or jokingly referred to by my great grandfather, hemorrhoid fricassée. Gross associations aside, this dish reminds me of the death of a demonic-people-pecking chicken. And still, I am unable to take a bite out of this dish without smiling a little. This chicken probably had it coming too.

Recipe: Adapted from John Besh’s My Family Table

3 Tablespoons of olive oil

3 bone in chicken breast

3 bone in chicken thighs

2 onions, diced

4 stalks of celery, diced

4 garlic cloves, minced

1 24-ounce can of whole tomatoes

1 quart of chicken broth

1 pound of carrots, peeled and chopped

1 pound of turnips, diced

½ pound of Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and cut into large pieces

¼ cup of finely chopped parsley

Salt, pepper and cayenne to taste

In a heavy-duty pot, heat the oil over high heat. Add the chicken to the pot, skin side down. Season with salt, pepper and cayenne pepper. Once golden brown, flip the chicken pieces over. Once brown on both sides, remove from pot and continue with the rest of the chicken. Add the onions to the drippings from the chicken and cook until softened. Add the celery and garlic and cook for a few minutes more. Add the tomatoes and crush with spoon. Season the mixture. Add the broth and season again. Add the chicken back to the pot, cover and simmer for 45 minutes. Add the carrots, turnips and potatoes to the pot and cover and cook for 30 minutes or until the chicken starts to fall off of the bone. Add the parsley to the pot and stir. Serve over rice.

Roast

If you want to let someone know you love them, make a roast. It’s a simple dish, but done right it can be one of the most wonderful things you ever put in your mouth. Roast is not complex or temperamental. It can be garlic pierced, seared on all sides, bathed in browned onions and carrots, and left simmering for hours upon hours. It needs a little love. It needs a little attention. And then, you need to give it some private time. No peeking, there is magic going on under the lid! You might as well put a “Do Not Disturb” sign on your pot. But oh how the wait is worth it. Now, make sure you are alone whenever you open the lid. You are about to experience the aroma of heaven. Slowly take the lid off and breathe in deep. Take a moment. It’s worth it. Go ahead. I won’t tell anyone. In the pot, you will discover the most buttery, flavorful meat. Roast gives back when treated well. It’s Southern hospitality on a plate.

Recipe: Serves 8-10 Hungry Souls

4 ½ – 5 pd. Rump or chuck roast

2+ Tbs. of canola oil

1 Tbs. salt

1 tsp. pepper

1 tsp. Tony’s Chachere’s

6 garlic cloves

¼ cup flour

2 onions, cut in halves

5 carrots, roughly chopped

4 cups of beef stock

2 Tbs. butter

Preheat oven to 275o

Heat a large pot on medium high heat. Add about 2 Tbs. canola oil. Place onions in the pot and cook until brown. Take the onions out and add carrots. Cook just until brown and take carrots out of pot. Pierce meat and add garlic cloves in the holes of the meat. Season with salt, pepper and Tony’s Chachere’s. Dust with flour. Place in the pot and sear each side until brown. Add vegetables and beef stock. Place the lid on the pot and place into the oven for 4-5 hours. Take roast out and add butter to the cooking liquid. Stir to combine.