Comforting Winter Suppers with Italian Flair

On cold winter nights, it’s comforting to come home to a warm house and the aroma of an Italian dinner in the air. Both of the below delicious casseroles combine cornbread with Italian ingredients for a hearty one dish meal. On the surface, pairing cornbread with Italian food seems like a stretch, but when we remember Italian polenta is made from corn, it doesn’t seem as unusual.

Country Italian Sausage Pie features a classic combination of Italian sausage, bell peppers, onions and Italian seasoned tomatoes which are all baked up under a cheesy cornbread crust.  This recipe is comforting in its familiarity and sure to become a family favorite.

country italian sausage pie

Pesto Cornbread with Chicken and Sun-dried Tomato Streusel approaches the cast iron skillet from a different direction. The convenient cornbread mix batter is combined with pesto sauce and poured into a hot skillet. Add next to the hot skillet, a mixture of chicken, sundried tomatoes and Parmesan. Top it off with mozzarella and basil. How can that not be delicious?

pesto cornbread with chicken and sun dried tomato streusel

Either recipe is a heart-warming meal by itself, but a vinaigrette dressed green salad would be the perfect compliment.

I would love to hear what your favorite winter comfort food is!

 

Entertain with Lowcountry Style

sweet cornbread shrimp cakes

When I hear the word “Lowcountry” it evokes a profusion of colorful images – the graceful architecture of Charleston and Savannah, the charm of the African influenced Gullah dialect, live oaks draped with Spanish moss and, of course,  the glorious Lowcountry cooking.

The Lowcountry is loosely defined as the area along the coastal plain of South Carolina and Georgia protected by a string of barrier islands. Like all regional cooking, Lowcountry cuisine is a fusion of this particular place and the people who have lived there.  Bountiful produce, access to seafood and exotic ingredients that came into the ports were incorporated into the traditions of European and English colonists. But the more adventurous African and West Indian influence gave Lowcountry cooking the flair that made it one of the most distinctive regional cuisines in the country.

Lowcountry cooks are typically passionate about their food and famous for their entertaining.  They take great pride in their culinary traditions and share them in their own personal style – from formal dinners to backyard shrimp boils. Here are a few suggestions about how to entertain in Lowcountry style.

  • Whether you enjoy throwing a fancy dinner party, a festive open house or a backyard cookout, embrace it and develop your own personal style.
  • Use local ingredients and traditional regional or family recipes to celebrate your heritage.
  • Incorporate native flowers, trees and plants into your decorations.
  • Savannah and Charleston are famous for their great parties, but great hostesses know it is really all about the guests. The best hosts and hostesses welcome old and new friends, guests from several generations, and friends from all walks of life with gracious warmth and hospitality.

Although Sweet Cornbread Shrimp Cakes with Mango Salsa is not a traditional Lowcountry recipe, it is a good example of combining native and more exotic ingredients to create delectable flavor.

Savory Breakfast Cobblers Perfect for Holiday Brunch

What is it about a brunch that always sounds so appealing? Is it that it falls at a convenient time of the day, our love for breakfast foods or the camaraderie of family and friends? Whatever the reason, brunch is a great way to celebrate the holiday season.

The menu is easy to plan if you start with hearty main dish cobbler. Dessert cobblers are certainly a Southern favorite, but the same concept will work for savory dishes, too. Breakfast cobblers are made with an easy pour-batter crust. Combine self-rising flour, butter, milk and eggs and then pour over a filling. As it bakes, the crust becomes crisp on the top and the eggs in the batter create a quiche-like texture on the inside.

It’s hard to beat the taste of a traditional country breakfast consisting of ham, eggs and hash browns. Country Breakfast Cobbler combines all these favorites with cheddar cheese in one easy dish with a tender crust.

Country Breakfast Cobbler

A more sophisticated version is the Italian Breakfast Cobbler which is also delicious. This cobbler combines savory Italian sausage, spinach, sweet red pepper, onion, mushrooms and provolone cheese with a Parmesan cheese topping.

Italian Breakfast Cobbler

Either of the above cobblers could be considered a meal in itself, but with the addition of seasonal fruit, a crisp green salad and something sweet – you have created the perfect brunch menu.

Summer Squash and Cornbread Pie

With all the wonderful varieties of squash available, I still prefer the charming little crookneck summer squash. It was often a part of my family’s summer vegetable dinners with its mild flavor melding so well with the other summer vegetables.

My mother always cooked several fresh vegetables for dinner along with a skillet of crisp cornbread. Her squash was sliced, cooked with a little water, salt and butter. When tender, she mashed it until slightly chunky and let it cook down until the whole pot was creamy and delicious.

There are many ways to prepare this summer vegetable. The shape and vibrant color of yellow crookneck squash makes it the perfect choice for stuffing, roasting and grilling. Its flavor blends well with herbs and cheeses in casseroles, salads, frittatas and soup.

The Martha White® Summer Squash and Cornbread Pie recipe is a version of my mother’s recipe. We added onion to the squash, topped it with cheesy cornbread and baked until golden brown – Delicious! If you like all-vegetable meals in the summer, this recipe served with fresh green beans and sliced tomatoes is a celebration of the season. For a little heartier menu, add grilled chicken or pork.

What is your favorite way to cook squash?

Potluck Picnic Dishes

When I think of summer, potluck picnics, family reunions, cook-outs and homecoming celebrations come to mind. In the South, these events are usually accompanied by a communal outdoor meal.  The prevailing wisdom is that everyone brings their signature dish.   This approach seems to work well and the host/hostess ends up with a wide variety of dishes from meats, fresh vegetables, casseroles and desserts.

One of the best cornbreads to take to an event like this is one of the Tex­-Mex style varieties.   This type of recipe features ingredients like cheese, corn, sour cream, green chilies and/or jalapeno peppers that help keep the cornbread moist. This variety of cornbread is great served hot or cold and always a favorite.

The tried and true is a recipe like our Martha White® Classic Tex-Mex Cornbread Supreme made with Self-Rising Enriched White Corn Meal Mix, full of a variety of moisture lending ingredients and spiced up with peppers. The Martha White® Green Chile Corn Muffins recipe has fewer ingredients and made with an unsweet cornbread mix. If you prefer a slightly sweeter cornbread, you might want to give the Martha White® Cheesy Chile Corn Muffins recipe a try.

Whatever you decide to take, I’m sure everyone will love to see you coming!

Tomato Pies, Tarts and Cobblers

This Martha White® Roasted Tomato and Bacon Cobbler was the second place winner in the 2015 National Cornbread Cook-Off in South Pittsburg, Tenn.  With the abundance of tomatoes this time of year, I thought I would share another recipe inspired by the classic tomato pie – Fresh Tomato Tart with Black Pepper Cornbread Crust.

Most tomato pies have some kind of crust, slices of fresh tomatoes and a cheese filling. The filling is usually made with shredded cheeses, mayonnaise and various herbs. Baked until the cheese is melted – it makes for a delicious pie!

Our award winning tomato cobbler retains all the elements of the traditional tomato pie, except roasted tomatoes are on the bottom and topped with the cheese filling. Cornbread batter poured over the top creates the cobbler topping.

The Martha White Fresh Tomato Tart with Black Pepper Cornbread Crust features a thin crisp cornbread crust baked in a 13 x 9-inch baking pan.  The crust is topped with slices of fresh tomatoes, a mixture of cheddar and mozzarella cheese combined with mayonnaise and seasoned with fresh basil and chives. This tomato tart makes a stylish appetizer, main course or unique side dish to serve at your next cook-out.

Make Corn Cakes for a Change

When I think of cornbread and fresh summer vegetables, I think of it prepared in a cast iron skillet – what my mom called “a pone of cornbread.” When I came to Nashville, I started seeing corn meal pancakes – topped with barbecue.  The Martha White® recipe files contain plenty of corn cake recipes.

Corn cakes are my husband’s cornbread of choice and I love to make them for him. The recipe I use is very similar to basic cornbread batter, but cooked into pancakes. If you make pancakes, you will have no trouble with cornbread batter.

Below are a few things I’ve discovered over the years of making corn cakes.

My recipe of choice is Martha White Sweet Milk Corn Cakes.  I sometimes make it with buttermilk instead of sweet milk. In case you don’t know, “sweet milk” is regular milk. Southerners often use this term to differentiate regular milk from buttermilk. If you prefer buttermilk, you may need to use a little extra due to its thicker consistency.  Buttermilk also tends to make the corn cakes a little crispier. Try both and see what you think.

How you prepare the skillet will have an effect on the outcome of the corn cakes. Using a non-stick cooking spray works great and creates a slightly crisp and tender corn cake. If you prefer a crunchier crust, heat a little oil in the pan before adding batter.

Corn cakes can be made with self-rising corn meal mix or a cornbread mix. This Mexi Corn Cakes and Barbecue Stacks recipe is reminiscent of my first corn cake experience. It’s made with a corn bread mix and corn with red and green peppers. To add a little heat, include some chopped jalapeno!