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!

 

The Power of a Tomato Salad

Some of my fondest memories growing up transpired in a small garden, in a small town in Louisiana. Balmy afternoons turned into tranquil evenings as I sat under the shade and comfort of my grandmother’s porch. Adjacent to her porch was a tiny garden. I remember lying in the garden as the earth cooled, and I was surrounded with imperfect yet ripe tomatoes, cucumbers as long as my forearm, and okra that grew like fingers on their vines. The okra gently waves in the breeze as a hand waves on a porch swing, seemingly trying to catch the summer air.  Herbs spread across the garden bed as a covering, whispering sweet melodies from the earth to the tender Southern natives above. The fragrance of fresh herbs and the subtle aroma of spring onions filled the air. And I rest there on my back in the midst of the garden with my eyes closed, breathing in the sweet aromatics of the Southern summer. Every once in a while I plucked a tender orb off of its resting place and grabbed a handful of herbs and took one bite, one perfect bite of a sweet, juicy yet crisp tomato that still clung to the energy of the garden. It was in those moments that I felt at peace. This dish has the integrity and wonder of the small garden in which I became acquainted with food in such a powerful way.

Recipe: Serves 4

8 tomatoes, cut into thick slices

4 strips of cooked bacon, crumbled

½ cup of chive dressing (recipe below)

2 cups of fried okra (recipe below)

Basil and chives, garnish

Salt and pepper to taste

To Assemble:

Stack the slices of 2 whole tomatoes on each plate. Drizzle the chive dressing over and around the tomatoes. Scatter both the bacon and the fried okra on the plate. Garnish with herbs and season with salt and pepper. Repeat with remaining 3 plates.

Chive Dressing:

½ cup of good mayonnaise

1 garlic clove, minced

2 tablespoons of chives, finely chopped

Splash of red wine vinegar

Salt and pepper to taste

In a small bowl, combine all of the ingredients. Thin the dressing out with water until you have the desired consistence. Season with vinegar, salt and pepper to taste.

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.