As part of my wanderings through the internet world of food, I came across a site that hosts a monthly cooking challenge: http://weekendcookbookchallenge.blogspot.com/.
Every month a new challenge is issued around a certain theme—either a particular chef, a certain kind of food, etc. I believe the goal is to either use a cookbook you have but from which you have never (or rarely) used a recipe. Anyway, this month’s challenge was “Salads”—a challenge for me since I’m not much of a salad maker over all. And for my first time participating I wanted to do something different than the few salads I usually make—veggie salads, pasta salads, salads made with various fruits, etc. For some reason, a memory of Tuscan Bread salad popped into my head, but having no Tuscan bread, nor time to make it, and not knowing of anyone who makes such a product within 200 miles of here, I found myself contemplating other possibilities.
I’d recently purchased a cookbook by veggie author Crescent Dragonwagon (love her name!) called The Cornbread Gospels; our family loves cornbread and other things made with good stoneground cornmeal, and I thought perhaps she might have something that would serve the purpose. At first I just found side dish salads to accompany whatever cornbread you might be making, but then I struck gold: Patsy’s Cornbread Salad, a non-vegetarian recipe, contributed by a Tennessee woman by the name of Patsy Barker.
The salad (and its vegetarian alternative) both require the use of true Southern cornbread—no flour, no sweetener, no baking powder, and this needs to be made the day before so there is time for the crumbled cornbread to dry before using in the salad. Crescent provides three suggested recipes that work with this salad; two used white cornmeal, and since I only have yellow, it made the decision easy! (By the way, the cornmeal I’m using is from a man who ground the corn right in front of me at the Bark Peelers’ Convention in northern Pennsylvania last year. I’ve kept an ever-dwindling supply in my freezer—best cornmeal I’ve ever had! But I digress…)
So for part 1, I’ll give you the recipe I used, with notes on any tweaking along the way:
Vegetable oil cooking spray
1 T. butter
2 c. stone-ground yellow cornmeal
1 t. baking soda
1 t. salt
2 c. buttermilk
1 T. mild vegetable oil
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
- Spray a 10 inch cast iron skillet with oil, add the butter and put it into the oven to heat. Meanwhile, stir together the cornmeal, baking soda and salt in a medium bowl.
- In a smaller bowl, beat the buttermilk with the eggs and oil.
- Combine the two mixtures. As always, be careful not to overbeat, stirring until wet and dry are just combined.
- Scrape the batter into the hot skillet and bake the cornbread until it is golden brown and crusty at the edges, 23 to 27 minutes. Serve hot in wedges. (Or crumble and dry overnight for your cornbread salad!!)
Tweaks: I had no cooking spray, so I just poured a teaspoon or two of olive oil into the pan with the butter before heating the pan in the over. Also, I have no cast iron pan—my cast iron pans are all in storage in NY until we are done living between homes. I used my hard anodized Calphalon skillet instead, and it worked beautifully. But I think cast iron still works the best with regard to cornbread. Finally, I had no mild vegetable oil on hand, so I just used olive oil.
(I wish I could describe to you how good this cornbread is, and how beautiful. The crumb is entirely different than I’ve experienced with the northern cornbread recipes I’ve used, and it really tastes like corn.)
Anyway, back to salad prep: I let the cornbread cool a bit, removed it from the pan and set it on a rack to cool to room temperature. As you can see from the pics, both bottom and top of the cornbread acquired a nice golden brown crust.
I then cut the bread into quarters, then strips, cut the strips crosswise in talk, and then cut into cubes, laying half the amount on two separate pans to dry overnight.
The reason for the two separate pans is because I wanted to try both variations on the salad, so I’m making a half recipe of each to see which we prefer.
Part 2 is coming right up!