31 July 2010

Simple Fresh Southern

To give you an idea of how far behind I am... I went to see Matt and Ted Lee in April and I am just now writing about it.

The Lee Bros. were quite charming and proved that you don't have to be born in the South to be a Southern Gentleman. The Lee Bros. told stories of their love of food and talked a bit about searching through old cookbooks, which of course, is a favorite pastime here. I attended with Harry Lowe and both ANN(e)'s. Ann is a photographer who's work has graced the cover of Life Magazine but alas, she doesn't cook. Anne can cook but taking pictures with her nifty iPhone needs some work! Still, the Lee Bros. were game.

They were at the Smithsonian not only to talk about food, but also to sell their latest cookbook, Simple Fresh Southern. The pages are rich with lovely photos of drinks and salads and desserts. Not to despair, there are also a few fried items sprinkled here and there. Like most regional cuisine, "Southern" cooking is about as diverse as can be. When I cook, one of my goals is to take the essence of something traditional and serve it up in a unique way. The Lee Bros. have the same aesthetic in their cooking, which is why I always love to read their recipes and listen to them talk about food. If you haven't seen them "throwdown" with Bobby Flay making Country Captain, you must hunt it down and watch. (I won't spoil it by telling you the winner.) For that matter, why does Bobby Flay have two or three shows on TV and Lee Bros. don't???

They talked about the various methods of making collards, from the cooking for many hours version that is the traditional way to the quicker, dice and cook method. They also told a wonderful story about potlikker. Later I shared with them one of my favorite potlikker uses. You can check it out at Lucindaville.

When I ran across this dish in Simple Fresh Southern, I realized it was a similar to a dish a friend in Mississippi used to make. It was a wonderful potato dish that contained frozen potatoes, cheese, sour cream, mayonnaise and jarred peppers. It was a bit like watching sausage being made, you didn't really want to watch, but in the end, it was delicious.

This dish is not as dicey to watch being put together and it is, well -- simple, fresh and Southern.

Pimento-Cheese Potato Gratin

3 teaspoons salt, plus more to taste
1 1/2 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and sliced into 1/4-inch-thick rounds
3/4 cup heavy cream
3 shallots, finely diced (scant 1/2 cup)
1/4 teaspoon crushed dried red chile flakes
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
One 9-ounce jar roasted red peppers or piquillo peppers, with their liquid
8 ounces extra-sharp cheddar cheese, coarsely grated (about 2 cups)

1. Heat the oven to 375°F, with racks positioned in the middle and the top third of the oven.

2. In a 3- to 4-quart stockpot, bring 2 quarts water and 2 teaspoons of the salt to a boil. Add the potatoes, and cook for 10 minutes. Then drain, and set them aside.

3. Combine the cream, shallots, chile flakes, remaining 1 teaspoon salt, the black pepper, and 2 tablespoons of the liquid from the jar of roasted peppers in a small saucepan. Bring to a simmer, and cook until the chile flakes have begun to stain the cream, about 2 minutes. Add half of the cheese and stir until it melts, about 1 minute. Remove the pan from the heat.

4. Layer roughly a third of the potatoes in a 6-cup baking dish, overlapping them slightly so that they fit in an even layer. Scatter half of the roasted peppers on top of the potatoes (cut up any peppers that have remained whole so that they lie flat), and repeat layering potatoes and peppers until all the peppers and potatoes have been used. Pour the cream mixture over the potatoes and peppers, and agitate the dish to distribute the liquid throughout. Cover with aluminum foil, and bake on the middle rack for 15 minutes.

5. Uncover the dish, sprinkle the remaining cheese over the top, and place the dish on the top oven rack. Bake for 8 minutes, or until the cheese is bubbly and gently browned on top. Serve immediately.
The Lee Bros. refer to pimento-cheese as a Southern pâté. While we are on the subject of pimento-cheese...
it was always a staple in my house. Like many things, it fell out of favor, but came back with vengeance. Not just as a sandwich, but for me, a quick meal. Her are a few ideas:

I make pimento-cheese mashed potatoes -- throw a spoonful into the hot potatoes and mash.

Top some tortillas chips with pimento-cheese and some ground beef for a Southern twist on nachos.

Try mixing three cup of pimento-cheese into cooked macaroni and baking for a quick mac and pimento-cheese.

In July, Ann was visiting and she asked me to make a Tomato Pie. I asked her if she had read a recipe somewhere and she said no. She had just heard someone mention it and she wanted a savory tomato pie, because it sounded good. For a quick Tomato Pie, take a store-bought crust, layer it with sliced tomatoes and pimento-cheese, with the pimento-cheese last. Bake in a 375 oven for about 40 minutes.

Now I want you to drag out those old junior league cookbooks and find a recipe that you can update and make simple, fresh, and lovely.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Blog Widget by LinkWithin