Friday, September 4, 2009

corn bread salad

cornbread salad

You wouldn’t believe how I have stalked this salad. It started when I bookmarked it nearly three years ago. Three! Each and every summer, it has managed to get lost in the shuffle of tomato season. This summer I decided it would be made no matter what only to discover that the link I had to the recipe no longer worked and that — huh? — I apparently didn’t own or couldn’t find the cookbook it came from. Amazon fixed that a week later, and I set to making it for a barbecue last weekend, only for the barbecue plans to fall through as heirloom tomatoes grew soft on our counter. One thing after another got in the way of this salad this week — first we were out of buttermilk, then basil, then daylight, then energy… — until I finally dug my heels in last night and decided that we would have corn bread salad with dinner or else. I know, I’m so intimidating when I threaten salad.

heirloom tomatoes
chopped heirlooms

I’m so sorry I waited so long. This salad is the height of peak-summer awesomeness, a kind of Southern answer to Italian Panzanella — with cornbread for the croutons, buttermilk-lime dressing for the olive oil and red wine vinegar and soft lettuces for the chunky vegetables. It was a shame we weren’t eating it on a wrap-around porch somewhere, with sweet tea in tall glasses and a basket of room-temperature fried chicken, but it doesn’t mean that you can make that happen this holiday weekend.

toasted cornbread cubes

scallions and herbs

This is one of those dishes I’m going to look back at in the dead of winter with blinking disbelief — there were tomatoes that gorgeous everywhere? We could eat that any night of the week? Outside? With no coat or hat or cursing the latest Nor’easter? Why didn’t we make it last? We have to go back! I honestly felt that level of melodrama at the market this week, with Everything In The World in season, but my colossal girth only enabling me to lug home a couple bags of it. Alex (my self-described “pack mule”) promises he will bring home as much as we want this weekend but I know that filling our counters with eggplant and peppers and plums won’t do what I really hope it might: not allow this weekend to mark the beginning of the end of summer.

Though, you know, squeeze a snowsuit-clad squishy-faced tiny person into that shivery winter picture, and lo, I suppose it won’t be so unbearable after all.

cornbread salad

One year ago: Raspberry Breakfast Bars (psst! Like the granola bars, these are another fantastic hostess gift.)
Two years ago: Hoisin Barbecue Sauce
Three years ago: Key Lime Tartlets

Corn Bread Salad
Adapted from The Lee Bros. Southern Cookbook

As for the tomatoes, I know I went for the heirlooms (I’m a sucker for bright colors) but in general, I honestly see no reason to splurge on them when every tomato that comes off the field in late August is to die for. And why did I peel them? Well, because the Lee Brothers do, because their mama always did. I’d been so enamored with the skinless appeal of the tomatoes in last week’s tomato and corn pie, I wanted to give them another spin. I liked the effect a lot, but like upmarket heirlooms, your salad will lack for nothing if you use skin-on and pedigree-free tomatoes.

1 recipe Crispy Corn Bread (below) or 3 cups of 1-inch cornbread cubes
1 1/2 pounds ripe tomatoes (4 to 6 medium)
6 cups roughly torn sturdy fresh lettuce, such as Bibb, butter or Boston
2 cups bitter greens, such as arugula or dandelion greens
1 large Vidalia onion, trimmed, peeled, sliced crosswise as thinly as possible and separated into rings
1 recipe Buttermilk-Lime Dressing (below)

Preheat oven to 250°. Scatter the corn bread in a single layer on a half-sheet pan and bake until the pieces are lightly toasted, about 7 minutes.

If you wish to peel the tomatoes: Cut an X in bottom of each tomato and blanch in a large pot of boiling water 10 seconds. Immediately transfer with a slotted spoon to an ice bath to cool. Peel tomatoes and chop them. (The Lee Bros. also suggest seeding the tomatoes, but I drew the line there.) Otherwise, just chop the tomatoes with the skin on.

Place lettuce, greens, 3 cups of toasted corn bread, onion and tomatoes to a large bowl and toss to combine. Drizzle with buttermilk dressing, season with salt and pepper, and toss again. Serve immediately.

Do ahead: If you’re making this for a picnic or pot-luck — and oh, you should — I suggest keeping the croutons in one container, the dressing in another and the salad mixture in a third; this is best freshly assembled, or in the 30 minutes after.

Buttermilk-Lime Dressing
Adapted from The Lee Bros. Southern Cookbook

Less heavy than a traditional green goddess dressing, but oh-so-much “greener” than my standard buttermilk dressing, this would be equally good on a salad as it would be as a dip (add 1/3 cup sour cream or crème fraîche, and a bit more salt) for something deep-fried. (They suggest okra, green tomatoes, oysters or hush puppies. I say “yes, please”.)

3/4 cups whole or lowfat buttermilk (whole preferred)
5 tabespoons freshly squeezed lime juice (they say from 3 to 4 limes; I only needed 1 1/2)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar (optional, this was my addition to give it more zing)
1 tablespoon honey
1/4 cup finely minced fresh basil
1/4 cup finely minced fresh flat-leaf parsley
1/4 cup finely minced green onios
1/2 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste

Whisk all of the ingredients together in a small bowl until combined. Can covered tightly and stored in the fridge up to two days.

Thin, Crispy Corn Bread
Adapted from The Lee Bros. Southern Cookbook

1 tablespoon lard or unsalted butter
1 1/2 cups stone-ground cornmeal
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
1 large egg
1 1/2 cups whole or lowfat buttermilk (whole is preferred, here’s how you can make your own)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter

Preheat the oven to 450°F. Grease a 12-inch skillet with one tablespoon of the lard or butter, leaving any excess in the pan, and place it in the oven.

In a large bowl, whisk the dry ingredients together. In a medium bowl, whisk the egg until frothy and then whisk in the buttermilk. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ones and mix thoroughly. Melt the remaining butter in a small skill (or your microwave) and whisk the butter into your batter.

While the fat in the large skillet is smoking, carefully remove the skillet from the oven and swirl the fat around to coat the bottom and sides evenly. Pour the batter into the skillet; it should “sizzle alluringly”, says the Lee Brothers. Bake for 15 minutes, or until the top of the bread is golden brown and the edge has pulled away from the side of the skillet. Remove from the oven and either serve hot, in six wedges, or let cool and reserve for Corn Bread Salad (above).


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