Recipes and Stories

23 June 2017: Seafood Stuffed Tomatoes

June 22, 2017

Tags: Classic Southern Cooking, Savannah Cooking, Savannah, Classic Lowcountry Cooking, Stuffed Vegetables, Stuffed Tomatoes, Tomatoes, Shrimp, Crab, Seafood, Historical Cooking

Seafood-Stuffed Tomatoes, Photographed by John Carrington Photography
One of the many things that Southern cooks share with Italians, especially those along the Ligurian coast that’s known as the Italian Riviera, is a love for filling hollowed-out vegetables with a blend of their chopped pulp, stale bread crumbs, herbs and seasonings, and often some kind of chopped meat, poultry, or seafood.

Here in the Carolina and Georgia Lowcountry, stuffed vegetables have long been a beloved part of our summer tables. Recipes for them date back well into the nineteenth century. (more…)

10 August 2015: Bird Peppers and Pepper Sherry

August 10, 2015

Tags: Classic Southern Cooking, Savannah Cooking, Savannah, Pepper Sherry, Bird Peppers

Pepper sherry and a crystal bowl of the fresh peppers, both of which were once essential condiments on Savannah tables. Photography by John Carrington, from my Savannah Cookbook, published in 2008
Once upon a time, a pot containing a pepper plant that produced tiny, innocent-looking peppers no bigger than small peas could be found in almost every Savannah courtyard. Known as “bird peppers,” they only looked innocent: they’re among the fieriest of all the hot pepper clan. Everyone grew them because they were a fixture in Savannah dining rooms. The fresh peppers were passed in a small bowl to be used as a condiment for soup.

But they were also used in an infusion with sherry to create a lovely condiment known simply as Pepper Sherry. Whether it was in an elegant crystal cruet or just a re-used soda or condiment bottle, this fiery, amber liquid graced almost every sideboard in town, from the humblest creek-side dwellings to the most elegant of townhouses downtown. (more…)

15 June 2015: Soft Shell Crabs

June 15, 2015

Tags: Soft-shell Crab, Crab, Lowcountry Cooking, Classic Southern Cooking, Savannah

Fried Soft-Shell Crabs, with lemon and Herb Mayonnaise, from The Savannah Cookbook (2008). Photography by the talented John Carrington
One of the lovely things about early summer on the coast in the South is the brief window when soft-shell crabs are in season.

Like most crustaceans, as blue crabs outgrow their hard outer shells, they shed them and begin growing a new one. For a few fleeting hours before it hardens, the new shell is soft, delicate, and completely edible. They’re a much-anticipated seasonal delicacy here in the Lowcountry. That season is already waning here, but we still have a little bit longer to enjoy them. (more…)

21 September 2013: Curried Rice Salad

September 21, 2013

Tags: Rice Salad, Curried Rice Salad, Lowcountry Cooking, Classic Southern Cooking, Savannah

Curried Rice Salad with Raisins, Pecans, and Green Onions
As summer slips into autumn, it would not do to let it pass without visiting a warm weather standard that straddles the bridge between the seasons: curried rice salad.
Unlike pasta, leftover rice is perfect for recycling in a salad: while pasta often turns gummy and flabby when cold, rice holds its shape, remains firm and yet tender, and because its surface starches “set,” the grains don’t clump together but remain distinct and separate. (more…)

16 January 2012: Turtle Bean Soup

January 17, 2012

Tags: Savannah, Black Beans, Turtle Beans, Black Bean Soup, Savannah Turtle Bean Soup, Classical Southern Cooking, Classic Southern Cooking, Historical Cooking, Historical Southern Cooking, Soup

Savannah Turtle Bean Soup served in the old tradition. Photography by John Carrington, from The Savannah Cookbook
Across the lane from my office window (in Savannah, we do not have “alleys”), there are orange and gold turning leaves right next to a magnificent tulip magnolia in full bloom. In mid-January. Such rare mornings as have commanded a topcoat and scarf have more often than not dissolved into afternoons that are downright balmy, barely demanding a sweater. This is almost unheard of, even in our little seaside corner of Georgia.

Fortunately, despite such daytime extremes our evenings have been cool enough to stir a seasonal longing for warming, comfortable bowls of soup. And when comfort is required, is there anything that fills the bill quite so well as bean soup?

All bean soups, from the thick, pasta-studded zuppas of Tuscany to the fragrantly spicy mélanges of the Caribbean, speak of the region from whence they came, and Savannah’s own, made with black, or as they were colloquially known, “turtle” beans, was no exception.

Where most bean soups are robust and provincial, and eaten from coarse everyday pottery, this one was a subtly seasoned, velvet-smooth puree served in the best company china. Ranking second only to Turtle Soup for refined elegance (it even had the same garnish of wafer-thin sliced lemon, sieved egg, and minced parsley) it was the culinary answer to the graceful architecture that surrounds our celebrated squares.

Unhappily, modern Savannahians rarely encounter this lovely soup at all, let alone served in that gracious way. The black bean soup to be found in local cafés and on far too many family supper tables is a Cuban or Southwestern inspired concoction spiced up with chilies, cilantro, cumin, and enough garlic to ward off an entire family of vampires.

Now, there’s a lot to be said for a spicy dose of Caribbean or Southwestern sunshine on a cold, drizzly winter day. But when the soul needs both warmth and refinement, Old Savannah had the better medicine.

Savannah Turtle Bean Soup

Sometimes the eggs were merely sliced and laid on the bottom of the tureen or soup plate before the soup was ladled in, imitating the way the turtle’s eggs were used in that soup, but for state occasions, they were forced through a wire mesh sieve and sprinkled over the top of each serving.

Serves 8 as a first course at dinner, or 6 as a main course at lunch or supper

1 pound dried black beans
½ pound lean salt-cured pork, in one piece, or ¼ pound if pre-sliced
6 cups meat broth
1 large or 2 medium white onions, trimmed, split lengthwise, peeled and chopped
1 large or 2 small cloves garlic, lightly crushed, peeled and minced
1 large carrot, peeled and diced small
1 small turnip, scrubbed, peeled and diced small
2 ribs celery, washed, strung and diced small
3 tablespoons tomato paste (or, in season, 2 medium ripe tomatoes scalded, peeled, seeded and chopped)
1 bay leaf
2 large sprigs of parsley
3 whole cloves, beaten to a powder with a mortar and pestle
1 blade mace, beaten to a powder with a mortar and pestle
Salt and whole black pepper in a peppermill
Ground cayenne
1 tablespoon mushroom catsup or Worcestershire sauce
2 large hard-cooked eggs, peeled
6-8 tablespoons sherry (1 tablespoon per serving)
1 lemon, thinly sliced
2-3 tablespoons minced parsley
Pepper Sherry, optional

1. Rinse the beans under cold running water, sort through and discard any damaged or discolored ones, and put them in a large, heavy bottomed pot. Add enough water to cover them by 2 inches. Beans cook better in soft water: if your water, like Savannah’s, is hard, use bottled or filtered water. Bring the beans slowly to a boil point over medium heat. Turn off the heat and soak until the beans have doubled in volume, about an hour.

2. Replenish the water with enough to cover the beans by 1 inch. Put the pot back over medium heat and bring it to a simmer again, skimming away any scum that rises. Reduce the heat to a slow simmer and cook until the beans are tender, about an hour.

3. Drain, reserving the cooking liquid, and return the beans to the pot with 2 cups of cooking liquid, the salt pork, and meat broth. Raise the heat to medium, and bring it back to a boil. Add the onion, garlic, carrot, turnip, celery, and tomato paste, let it return to a boil, skimming off any scum that rises, then put in the bay leaf and parsley, powdered cloves, a pinch or so of salt (going easy; you can correct it later), a liberal grinding of pepper, a small pinch of cayenne, and the catsup or Worcestershire. Reduce the heat to a slow simmer, cover, and cook until the vegetables are very tender, about 2 hours.

4. Puree the soup through a food mill or with a hand blender, regular blender, or food processor. If it’s too thick, thin it with some of the reserved bean cooking liquid. Return it to the pot and bring it back to a simmer over medium heat, stirring often to prevent scorching. Taste and adjust the seasonings, and let it heat 2 to 3 minutes longer.

5. Meanwhile, force the eggs through a coarse wire sieve. To serve, add a tablespoon of sherry to each bowl and ladle in the soup. Float a slice of lemon on top of each and sprinkle with egg and parsley. Serve at once, passing Pepper Sherry separately, if liked.

25 September 2011: Christ Church Episcopal Potato Gratin

September 25, 2011

Tags: Christ Church Episcopal, Savannah, Potatoes, Classic French Cooking, Potato Gratin

Today was our Parish's old-fashioned picnic, and a lot of friends asked for the recipe for the potato gratin that I always bring to it. It's just a classic French gratin of potatoes with cream and Gruyere cheese, kicked up a notch with country ham and sage. It's the perfect dinner party dish, because it's easy, elegant, can be served in its baking dish, and is a real crowd pleaser.

Here's the recipe.

Christ Church Episcopal Potato Gratin, A.K.A. French Potato Gratin with Country Ham and Sage
Serves 10

2 large yellow onions, trimmed, split lengthwise, peeled, and thinly sliced
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 pounds russet (baking potatoes, about 4 large)
2 cups (1 pint carton) heavy cream
1 ounce country ham (1 slice) or prosciutto, cut into fine julienne
2 tablespoons chopped fresh sage
2 ½ cups (8 ounces) grated Gruyere cheese
Salt and whole white or black pepper in a peppermill
Whole nutmeg in a grater

1. Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 400° F. Generously butter a 10x15 2½-3 quart gratin or baking dish (I use a Le Creuset enameled iron 3-quart gratin dish.)

2. Melt the butter over medium heat in a large skillet. Add the onion and sauté, stirring occasionally, until tender and evenly colored a deep gold, about 10-15 minutes.

3. Meanwhile, peel and thinly slice the potatoes with a sharp knife, mandoline, or food processor. Mix the potatoes with the onion, cream, prosciutto, sage, and 2 cups of Gruyere in a large bowl. Season with salt, pepper, and nutmeg to taste and toss well.

4. Pour into the prepared casserole, pressing down and leveling the top, and sprinkle with remaining cheese. Bake 15 minutes and reduce the heat to 350°. Bake about 1 hour to 1 hour and 15 to 20 minutes longer, or until potatoes are very tender and bubbly at the center and the top is golden brown. Serve hot or warm.