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Spoon Bread with Tomatoes


Is cornmeal a southern thing? It totally is, isn't it?

I mean, I suspect people use it almost anywhere corn is grown, but the South seems to have a special relationship with corn.

For one, corn really likes to grow in the South. You don't typically find it growing in the quantities that it does in the Midwest, but pretty much every small farmer or gardening enthusiast or kitchen gardener has a patch of corn. It's just one of those staple crops.

Corn and the South also go way back. From the "three sisters" planting method of the Cherokees (planting corn, squash, and beans together) to the corn shipped out of the mountains in the form of moonshine, corn is just a thing we southerners are raised with and taught to appreciate.

There are two main types of corn that you cook with--sweet corn and dent corn. Sweet corn is just what it sounds like: corn so sweet you just eat it off the cob or creamed or perhaps in some lovely fritters. Dent corn (so named because the kernels develop a "dent" on them when they dry) is dried and ground into meal. And you can make all sorts of amazing dishes with cornmeal.

One of my favorite cornmeal dishes is spoon bread. Spoon bread is not quite cornbread and not quite custard, but hovers somewhere deliciously in between the two. It's a complete snap to put together (thank you to all those overworked southern women who had to feed gaggles of family members quick and in a hurry), and its very customizable.

For this version, I simply threw in a pint of heirloom cherry tomatoes, which turned out to be a remarkably good idea. I wish I'd had some fresh herbs to add as well, but the tomatoes alone added a ton of flavor. Be sure to use a flavorful cherry tomato--I used Sungolds--and not those anemic little things you get at most supermarkets. 

Soft-Center Spoon Bread With Cherry Tomatoes
serves 4 to 6


Using stone-ground cornmeal will result in a more soufflé-like texture.

Preheat the oven to 375°F.
Whisk together in a large bowl:
            ¾ cup yellow cornmeal, stone-ground if desired
            ¼ cup all-purpose flour
            1 tablespoon sugar
            1 teaspoon salt
            1 teaspoon baking powder
Stir in until well blended:
            1 large egg, beaten
            1 cup milk
Melt in an 8-inch square baking dish in the oven:
            2 tablespoons butter, bacon grease, or oil
Add to the baking dish:
            1 pint flavorful cherry tomatoes
Pour in the batter. Pour over the top:
            ½ cup milk
Bake 45 minutes, until good and crusty on top.

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Note: This pie takes about an hour to bake--maybe more in your oven. It will seem, at first, as though the filling is not going to set, but be patient. Don't take the pie out of the oven until...