That translates into corn, peaches, blueberries, peas and beans of all types making their way to the breakfast, lunch and dinner table.
Chef Frank Stitt, an Alabama boy by birth, knows all too well the bounty of southern soil and regularly grazed farmland.
His first cookbook, after 22-years in the business, pays homage to the low-country cuisine he calls his own.
Stitt combines good food, great flavors and healthy combinations and ends up with recipes that make fabulously adorned plates of food.
Here are the recipes for Highland Baked Grits, Pickled Shrimp, Marinated Field Peas and Fresh Herbs, Pork Chops and Brochettes with Creamy Grits and Maker's Mark Sauce and finally, Peach and Bluberry Cobbler.
HIGHLANDS BAKED GRITS
Serves 8 to 10 as an appetizer
This signature appetizer is simple southern with a little finesse. The grits are baked in individual ramekins, then served with a buttery Parmesan sauce, garnished with wild mushrooms and strips of country ham. This is pure comfort, warm and homey with a soothing contrast in textures. Organic stone-ground corn grits are essential - don't even think about trying this with "quick" grits!
FOR THE GRITS
4 cups water, preferably spring water
1 teaspoon Kosher salt
1 cup yellow stone-ground grits, preferably organic
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/4 cup finely grated parmigiano-reggiano
Freshly ground white pepper to taste
1 large egg, beaten
FOR THE SAUCE
1/2 cup white wine
1/4 cup sherry vinegar, or to taste
2 shallots, minced
1 bay leaf
1 dried red chile pepper
1 to 2 ounces country ham (trimmings, end pieces, and scraps from the shank are fine)
1 tablespoon heavy cream
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into cubes
2 tablespoons finely grated parmigiano-reggiano
Kosher salt and freshly ground white pepper
Juice of 1/2 lemon, or to taste
Hot sauce, such as Tabasco or cholula
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 thin slices country ham or prosciutto, cut into julienne strips
1/2 cup chanterelle, morel, shiitake, or oyster mushrooms cut into 1- to 2-inch pieces
1 shallot, minced
Thyme leaves for garnish
In a large heavy saucepan, bring the water and salt to a boil. Stirring with a wooden spoon, add the grits in a slow, steady stream and cook, stirring frequently, until thickened and tender, 45 minutes to 1 hour. Remove from the heat and add the butter, parmigiano, and white pepper, stirring until combined. Add the egg and stir to incorporate.
Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 375ºF. Butter eight to ten 4- to 6-ounce ramekins.
Divide the grits among the buttered ramekins, place in a baking pan, and add enough hot water to the pan to come halfway up the sides of the ramekins. Cover with foil and bake for 15 minutes. Remove the foil and bake for about 20 minutes longer, or until the tops are crusty and beginning to brown.
Meanwhile, in a medium sauté pan, combine the wine, vinegar, shallots, bay leaf, chile pepper, and ham and bring to a boil. Cook until only 1 tablespoon of liquid remains. Reduce the heat to low and stir in the cream. Whisk in the butter bit by bit, adding each new piece as the previous one is incorporated.
Strain the sauce into a saucepan. Add the Parmigiano and season with salt and pepper, lemon juice, and hot sauce to taste. Keep warm.
Heat the oil in a small sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add the julienned ham, mushrooms, and shallot and cook until the mushrooms are barely tender, 3 to 4 minutes.
Unmold the grits onto serving plates and turn browned side up. Ladle a little sauce around the grits and top with the mushrooms and ham. Garnish with thyme leaves.
NOTE: The grits can be baked up to 1 hour ahead and set aside at room temperature. Reheat on a baking sheet in a 400ºF oven until warmed through.
TO DRINK: Chateauneuf-du-Pape blanc, Domaine du Vieux Telegraphe
Serves 15 to 20 as an hors d'oeuvre
Another Lowcountry classic, pickled shrimp is a favorite hors d'oeuvre for entertaining. And it gets even better after a couple days' marinating. A nonreactive container, such as a glass canning jar, is best for holding the shrimp in the refrigerator. If you plan on keeping the shrimp in the fridge for more than a few days, however, it's best to sterilize your (heatproof) container first by boiling it in water for five minutes.
3 pounds boiled small to medium shrimp (see Note), peeled
2 medium onions, quartered and very thinly sliced
1 teaspoon celery seeds
1 cup extra virgin olive oil
6 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
4 lemons, thinly sliced
14 bay leaves
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
1 teaspoon mustard seeds
4 dried hot chile peppers
1 teaspoon fresly ground white pepper
1 teaspoon coriander seeds
1/4 cup white wine vinegar
1/2 cup fresh lemon juice
Combine all the ingredients in a large bowl and toss thoroughly. Pack everything into a large glass jar, cover, and refrigerate overnight to allow the flavors to come together.
Serve as an hors d'oeuvre with toothpicks and napkins.
To cook shrimp, fill a large pot with water and add 1 onion, quartered, 1 celery stalk, cut into pieces, 1 lemon, sliced, and 4 flat-leaf parsley sprigs. Bring to a boil over high heat, reduce the heat and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes.
Add a tablespoon of salt and the shrimp. As soon as the water returns to a simmer, remove from the heat. The shrimp will have just begun to curl and have turned a bright pink. Do not allow the water to boil, or the shrimp will be tough. Drain -but do not rinse the shrimp, or the flavor will go right down the drain. Reserve the broth, if desired. Allow the shrimp to cool.
TO DRINK: Pinot Grigio, Tiefenbrunner
MARINATED FIELD PEAS AND FRESH HERBS
Serves 4 to 6
This southern take on a French lentil salad has become a regular staple in summertime, when peas are at their prime. It is a great barbecue side dish, easy to make, and holds up well for several hours. I like to serve it with creamed corn and fried okra as part of a vegetable plate.
2 pounds pink-eyes, black-eyes, crowders, or butter peas, or a combination, shelled
2 onions, quartered
1 ham hock or a small chunk of slab bacon
2 dried hot chile peppers
2 bay leaves
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1 bunch sage, leaves removed and torn into small pieces
1 bunch thyme, leaves removed
Freshly ground black pepper
Hot pepper sauce, such as Tabasco or cholula
In a large pot, combine the peas, onions, ham hock, hot peppers, bay leaves, and salt and add cold water to cover by 3 inches. Bring to a simmer, then reduce the heat to low and simmer until tender, 30 to 45 minutes, depending upon the freshness of the peas. Set aside to cool in the cooking liquid, then drain, reserving about 1/2 cup of the liquid. Discard the onions, chile peppers, and bay leaves; if desired, remove the meat from the ham hock and reserve for another use (discard the bacon if you used it).
In a large pan, heat the olive oil with the garlic, sage, and thyme until fragrant. Add the peas with the reserved cooking liquid and toss to mix. Season with salt and pepper and serve with hot pepper sauce.
PORK CHOPS AND BROCHETTES WITH CREAMY GRITS AND MAKER'S MARK SAUCE
We suggest the combination of these two cuts of pork for the great contrast in texture and appearance it provides. Should you care to simplify this dish, just serve the brochette without the chop, or vice versa. Paired with Creamy Grits and bourbon, it is deliciously down-home.
FOR THE PORK
4 garlic cloves, crushed
2 shallots, thinly sliced
1 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon coarsely ground allspice berries
1/4 cup olive oil
Four 6-ounce bone-in loin pork chops
One 12-ounce pork tenderloin, trimmed and cut into four 3-ounce portions
FOR THE SAUCE
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 slice bacon, chopped
1 small onion, roughly chopped
1 carrot, peeled and roughly chopped
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1 1/2 teaspoons tomato paste
1 tablespoon molasses or honey
1/2 cup Maker's Mark or other good bourbon
4 cups Chicken or Beef Broth (page 339 or 340), or canned low-sodium broth
1 thyme sprig, 1 parsley sprig, 1 marjoram sprig, and 1 bay leaf tied together to make a bouquet garni
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Four 5-inch wooden skewers, soaked for 30 minutes
1 large Vidalia onion, cut into eighths
8 bay leaves
Combine the garlic, shallots, pepper, allspice, and 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in a large shallow baking dish. Add all the pork and massage the mixture into the meat. Cover and marinate in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours, or overnight.
To prepare the sauce, heat the oil in a saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the bacon and vegetables and cook, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for about 5 minutes longer, until the vegetables are caramelized. Add the tomato paste and molasses, stirring to combine. Add the bourbon and ignite with a long match (or carefully tip the pan near the flame so that the vapors ignite). Reduce until a quarter of the mixture remains and a glaze forms. Add the broth and bouquet garni and bring to a boil. Reduce by half, skimming frequently to remove any fat that accumulates on the surface.
Strain the sauce and return to the saucepan. Boil to reduce further, until the broth is dark, rich, and coats the back of a spoon. Remove from the heat and set aside. (The sauce can be made several hours ahead, covered, and refrigerated.)
Prepare a hot grill. Rub the grates of the grill with olive oil.
Remove the pork chops and medallions from the marinade and season with salt and pepper. Grill, turning once, until medium-rare to medium, about 8 to 10 minutes, or cook to desired doneness. Transfer to a rack to rest.
Meanwhile, assemble the brochettes: Thread a wedge of onion, followed by a bay leaf into each skewer. Brush all with the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Grill, turning once, until the pork is medium-rare and the onions are tender, 6 to 8 minutes total.
Just before serving, reheat the sauce over low heat.
Spoon a portion of the grits into the center of each dinner plate and place a grilled chop and brochette in the center. Ladle the sauce around and serve.
TO DRINK: Cabernet Sauvignon, Spottswood
Cabernet Sauvignon, Joseph Phelps
PEACH AND BLUEBERRY COBBLER
Serves 6 to 8
Rustic cobblers are simple desserts, and they are hard to beat. There is no bottom crust to roll out, blind bake, and fill, but you get equal impact---the aroma of bubbling fruit and spices wafting from the oven and a topping of flaky pastry rounds over the warm filling. A scoop of vanilla ice cream is about the only thing left to ask for.
FOR THE FILLING
8 to 10 large peaches, halved, pitted, and cut into 1/4-inch-wide wedges (enough to generously fill your baking pan)
1/2 to 1 pint blueberries, picked over
Grated zest of 1/2 lemon
1/4 cup granulated sugar, or more to taste
1/4 cup packed light brown sugar
Pinch of cinnamon
Pinch of Kosher salt
Scant 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons cold unsalted butter
FOR THE DOUGH
1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar
1 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon Kosher salt
4 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, diced
1/2 cup buttermilk, or as needed
About 2 tablespoons whole milk for glazing
1 heaping tablespoon coarse or granulated sugar for topping
Preheat the oven to 375ºF. Line a baking sheet with foil or parchment paper.
Put the peaches in a large bowl, add the blueberries, and toss to combine. Add the lemon zest, both sugars, cinnamon, and salt and toss again. Let macerate until juices are released, about 20 minutes.
Taste the fruit mixture; depending on the fruit, you may need to add more sugar to sweeten it or add a little flour to thicken it if a lot of juice has accumulated during maceration. Transfer the fruit to a 10- or 11-inch gratin dish and dot the top with the butter.
To prepare the dough, sift the dry ingredients into a large bowl. Add the butter and, with a fork or a pastry blender, work it into the dry ingredients until the mixture is crumbly and resembles course cornmeal. Make a well in the center, pour in the buttermilk, and stir the dough lightly with a rubber spatula until it begins to come together. If the dough looks dry, and a little more buttermilk: The dough should be moist but not wet. Gather it together into a disk.
On a floured surface, roll out the dough to a 1/2-inch thickness. Dip a 2-inch round biscuit cutter or a juice glass in flour and cut out as many circles as you can. Gather the scraps of dough together, knead gently, and roll out one more time. Cut out as many circles as you can again. (Do not use the scraps again.) Place the dough circles on top of the fruit mixture, brush them with the milk, and sprinkle with the sugar.
Place the baking dish on the prepared baking sheet to catch any spills. Bake until the fruit is bubbly and the biscuit topping is golden brown, about 45 minutes. Let cool slightly before serving.