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Asparagus with Leeks and New Potatoes
When asparagus is very young and fresh, the only respectable way to cook it is quickly and simply, so that the fresh flavor and texture is allowed to shine. When it isn't so fresh, pairing asparagus with fresh leek greens and new potatoes and sautÚing them both in butter is a lovely thing to do. The bright herbal flavor of the leeks revives the lagging flavor of older asparagus, and the pleasant hint of caramel adds another, subtle dimension that enhances rather than cloaks the dish.
1 1/2 pounds fresh asparagus, washed, peeled, and trimmed as directed on pages 62-63
Green tops of 2 large leeks, washed and trimmed
1/2 pound small red new potatoes, cooked as directed on page 68, but not peeled
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
Salt and black pepper in a peppermill
1. Cut the asparagus crosswise into 1-inch lengths, keeping the tips separate from the stems. Set them aside. Slice the leek leaves crosswise about 1/4 inch thick. Slice the potatoes into 1/4-inch thick rounds.
2. Put the butter in a skillet or sautÚ pan that will comfortably hold all the ingredients and turn on the heat to medium high. When the butter is melted, add the potatoes and asparagus stems. SautÚ, tossing them frequently, until the potatoes are beginning to turn golden, about 3 minutes.
3. Add the leek greens and asparagus tips, a healthy pinch of salt, and a liberal grinding of pepper. SautÚ, shaking the pan and tossing the ingredients frequently, until the asparagus is tender and beginning to brown a little. It should still be firm and bright green. Turn off the heat. Taste and correct theseasonings, and serve at once.
Note: There is no substitute for butter here. No other fat will caramelize the asparagus or give the dish that rich, buttery-brown flavor. Though the flavor would in no way be the same, the only substitutes that I could suggest might be extra virgin olive oil or peanut oil.
This isn't what you're thinking it is: the word "fool" can actually mean several things other than one of your in-laws or a member of an opposing political party. In this case, it's an ancient English dessert--a simple, luscious confection of whipped cream and tart fruit, similar in concept to a classic Bavarian cream. It was once popular on this side of the Atlantic, too, and ought to be popular again.
1 pint strawberries
2 tablespoons bourbon
Freshly grated zest of one orange
1 cup heavy cream (minimum 36 percent milkfat)
4 sprigs fresh mint
1. Wash the berries and set aside 4 small, nicely shaped ones for garnish. Stem and core the remaining berries, and cut them into thick slices. Sprinkle lightly with sugar--how much will depend on how sweet the berries are already--the bourbon, and the orange zest. Cover and set them aside to macerate for half an hour.
2. Mash the berries to a pulp with a potato masher. Don't use a blender or food processor; both machines do too good a job and liquefy them.)
3. In a separate bowl, beat the cream until it forms soft peaks. Gently fold in the strawberries until the mixture is uniform. Spoon the fool into stemmed glasses. Thoroughly chill the fool for at least 1 hour. Just before serving them, garnish the tops with the sprigs of mint and reserved berries.
Fried Green Tomatoes
There was a time when a certain so-called progressive element of Southern society was embarrassed by the whole idea of fried green tomatoes. Breaded in cornmeal and fried in bacon drippings, they were considered too countrified, folksy, and unsophisticated, and were relegated to the backwoods. Mind you, smart Southerners weren't bothered by all that and kept right on eating them. But ever since Fanny Flagg's lovely Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistlestop Cafe was made into a motion picture, fried green tomatoes are not only fashionable, they are the one Southern vegetable dish that everyone knows about. It's not a bad dish to be known by, either.
In some parts of the United States, fried green tomatoes are made only in the fall with the last of the crop, plucked from the vines before the first frost kills them off. However, throughout the South, we start frying as soon as the vines produce the first fruit.
4-6 medium very green tomatoes
Salt and black pepper in a peppermill
2 large eggs, lightly beaten in a shallow bowl
1 cup fine-ground white cornmeal
1 cup bacon drippings or a mixture of vegetable oil and drippings
1. Preheat the oven to 150 degrees F, and have ready a wire rack fitted on a cookie sheet. Cut out the stems of the tomatoes and cut them crosswise into slices at least 3/8 inch thick. Don't peel them. Sprinkle them very lightly with sugar and salt, and lay them flat in one layer on a platter or cookie sheet for at least half an hour. Meanwhile, break the eggs into a shallow bowl and beat them lightly, spread the cornmeal on a dinner plate, and have both bowl and plate ready by the stove.
2. Wipe the tomatoes thoroughly with a cotton kitchen towel or paper towels. There should be no sugar remaining on them at all. Season them lightly with salt and a few grindings of pepper.
3. Put the fat into a well-seasoned iron (or nonstick) skillet and turn on the fire to medium. When it is hot but not smoking, dip the slices of tomato one at a time in the beaten eggs, letting the excess drain back into the bowl, roll them quickly in the breading, gently shake off the excess, and slip them into the pan. Fry the tomato slices until they are golden on the bottom, about 3 minutes, then gently turn them with a spatula and continue cooking until both sides are golden. Drain them briefly on butcher paper or paper towels, then transfer them to the wire rack in the oven while you cook the next batch. Repeat until all the slices are fried. The tomatoes cannot be reheated and must be served at once.
Note: The classic taste can only be had with bacon drippings, but vegetarians can use peanut oil instead, as it comes closest to producing the right crispness, though the flavor is naturally in no way the same.
The sugar is not intended to add sweetness to the tomatoes, but only to help remove the bitterness that some green tomatoes have. It should in no way interfere with the tartness of the tomatoes. So use only the very lightest sprinkling, and be sure you wipe it thoroughly from the slices before breading them.
Figs and Country Ham
Southern country ham and Italian prosciutto are very much alike. In the South, in season, country ham is sometimes served with fresh fruit, just as its Italian cousin is. Even out of season, a fruit conserve will be passed along with it. Here it is happily paired with succulent, sweet, perfectly ripe figs. I like to also pass warm Corn Sticks (page 40) with this.
The ingredients are few, but the strength of this dish lies entirely in the quality of those few ingredients: the figs must be perfectly ripe, the ham of the best quality--not too salty with just an undertone of sweet smokiness--and the butter fresh and creamy.
4 large, ripe figs (or 8, if they are small)
16 paper-thin slices of raw (preferable) or cooked country ham
1/4 pound unsalted butter, softened
Black pepper in a peppermill
1. Cut the figs lengthwise into quarters and lemons into 8 wedges.
2. Fold the ham slices double and arrange them 4 per plate on salad plates, folded side out and centers overlapping. Arrange the figs and lemons in an alternating pinwheel pattern on top of the ham.
3. Whip the butter until fluffy and light, and put a large dollop in the center of each plate. Serve at once, passing the peppermill or a shaker of freshly ground pepper separately.
Table of ContentsAcknowledgments
The Soul of Southern Cooking: Vegetables and Fruit
The Southern Kitchen: Equipment, Ingredients and Methods
Go-Withs and Other Necessaries: Accompaniments for Under, Over or On the Side
Sauces: Flavored Butters, Rich Creams, and Other Enhancements
Spring: Sprouts, New Leaves, and Fresh Strawberries
Summer: Tomatoes, Okra, and Ripe Georgia Peaches
Autumn : Sweet Potatoes, Nuts, and Crisp Mountain Apples
Winter: Beans, Greens, and Sweet Florida Citrus
Bibliography and Reading List