We all need a little “Skillet Love”….Cornbread

Cornbread can fall into many categories….the good, the bad, dry or moist, sweet or not, yellow or white.  This recipe for “Black Skillet Cornbread”, from the new cook book “Skillet Love” by New York Times Best Selling Cookbook author Anne Byrn, published by Grand Central Publishing, is in my opinion, simply “the best cornbread” I have ever eaten. I always hesitate to declare anything “the best” as that concept is full of conflict in that my best might not be yours. I take exception to my rule and challenge you to make it and see if you agree or not. The recipe itself is part of the deliciousness, but the key “ingredient” is the cast iron skillet in which it is cooked.

Cover photography by Danielle Atkins Photography.

 “Skillet Love” has more than 150 recipes, from “steak to cake” all baked, charred, roasted, fried, grilled and browned in a 12 inch seasoned cast iron skillet. Did you know that you can quickly make a pound cake in cast iron? How about the crispiest crust pizza ever? A whole roasted hen along with vegetables? These recipes, the history of cast iron cookware, how to season a new cast iron skillet as well as how to keep your old one in great shape is all to be found between the pages of this delightful book. Beautiful photography by Danielle Atkins, lively prop styling by Jessie Pickren and the food styling by me and Anne.

All book photography by Danielle Atkins Photography.

When asked what is my go-to cooking pan, I always reply it is my much loved and cared for cast iron skillet that belonged to my Grandmother on my Mother’s side who I never met. It is old and shiny black with a beautifully seasoned finish. It has moved along with me in life, it has pleased me when life was not so pleasing and has cooked many tasty upside down cakes and crispy breads, never failing to satisfy. It is just a cast iron skillet, a material object, but it has a life of stories within. I have added many cast iron pieces to my collection of pots and pans over the years. Some of my favorites come from Lodge Cast Iron which is made right here in Tennessee. Lodge was the perfect skillet for this most perfect of cornbreads.

The “sizzle” is the key to success when baking cornbread. Placing the skillet, with oil, in a cold oven then turning it to 450 degrees and leaving the skillet until it is very, very hot and the oil is “shimmering” before adding the batter is how to get the crusty goodness.  Be patient. This can take a few minutes, which is when you can gather and measure out your ingredients. Maybe have a sip of wine or a cup of tea. Just be patient…see that sizzle?

A couple of things before we get to the recipe. Good cornmeal is also a key to making good cornbread. There are so many varieties on the market that it can be confusing when shopping. White, yellow, stone ground, rough, smooth, self rising or plain? I used Anne’s favorite cornmeal from “The Old Mill”. Their white self rising cornmeal can be bought from their online shop. It is stone ground, silky and grainy at the same time and makes a great skillet of cornbread as you can see.

This is how we ate it yesterday…a hot bowl of tomato soup topped with shredded Gruyere.

If you live in Tennessee you cannot get much more local than this cookbook. The author, the photographer, the prop stylist and I all live in Nashville. Lodge Cast iron is made in South Pittsburgh, TN. The Old Mill cornmeal is ground in Pigeon Forge, TN. Bon Appetit.

Black Skillet Cornbread

 

Ingredients:

  • 2 tablespoons bacon grease or veg oil
  • 1 3/4 cups self-rising white cornmeal
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup veg oil
  • 1 1/2 cups full-fat buttermilk
  • 1 to 4 tablespoons water (optional)

Directions:

  1. Add bacon grease or veg oil in a 12 inch cast iron skillet and place in the oven. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.
  2. Whisk together the cornmeal and flour. Stir in the oil and buttermilk until smooth. If batter is too thick, thin it with the water.
  3. When oven comes to temperature, remove the skillet and pour in the batter. It should sizzle. Return the pan to the oven and bake until the cornbread is deeply browned, 12 to 17 minutes.
  4. If need be, run a knife around the edges of the pan and turn the cornbread out onto a cutting board, bottom-side up. Use a sharp knife or pizza cutter to cut into wedges.

Recipe used with permission, from the cookbook “Skillet Love” by Anne Byrn.

 

Hearty Minestrone Soup with Feta-Parmesan Cornbread to Cure The February Funk

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The are many similarities between Southerners and Italians…we both like to talk excitedly and passionately about things we feel strongly about…we both love to cook and truly believe that food can heal among other things…a broken heart, the flu and any sort of general malaise. A general (February dark wet days) malaise seems to have fallen over many folks I have talked to this week. Nothing specific…just a general funk!

I suggest to cure your February Funk make this Minestrone Soup and Cornbread. Make a big pot to eat on for days. Make a big skillet of cornbread as well. I am sure you will brighten up and feel happier right away!

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My well-seasoned Lodge Cast Iron Skillet gives my recipe a very nice crust. A cast iron skillet like this one is a must for making true Southern cornbread.

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Minestrone Soup, Italian for a myriad of vegetable soups, can have pretty much whatever you want in it. One thing I always add is the leftover rind of Parmesan Cheese. Don’t throw them away as they add lots of flavor to any soup. I combine canned beans, fresh squash, canned or fresh tomatoes and chicken stock as the base for my version. You can add pasta or not. Experiment to come up with your own style.

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When I eat hearty winter soups like Minestrone a skillet of cornbread is part of the picture.  Experimenting with a basic cornbread recipe is my usual approach. This week I had lots of Feta and shredded-herbed Parmesan cheeses left over from a photo shoot.

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A good olive oil is what I put into the skillet while it is heating up. The cornbread will have a very crispy outside crust and stay moist inside if you get the skillet and oil very, very hot in a 400 degree oven before adding the batter. See what I mean below?

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Cook. Eat Well. Talk about stuff. Cook some more. You will feel better in the morning!

Hearty Minestrone Soup and Feta-Parmesan Cornbread

  • Servings: 6-8
  • Print

Ingredients for Minestrone Soup:

  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 4 cups chicken or vegetable broth
  • 2 zucchini squash, cut into half moons
  • 2 yellow squash, cut into half moons
  • 1 can cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 can kidney beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 can black beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 large can diced tomatoes, drained
  • 1 to 2 Parmesan cheese rinds
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • pinch of red pepper flakes (optional)
  • 2 cups cooked chicken shredded (optional)

Ingredients for Cornbread:

  • 1 cup yellow cornmeal
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 cup crumbled feta cheese
  • 1 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
  • 1 Tbsp dried Italian herb mixture
  • 1/4 cup olive oil + more for skillet
  • 1 egg
  • 1 cup milk

Directions for Soup:

  1. Heat olive oil in a heavy soup pan over medium high heat. Add diced onions and cook until translucent.
  2. To soup pan add broth, zucchini and yellow squash, cannellini beans, kidney beans, black beans, tomatoes and Parmesan rinds. Bring to a boil then turn heat to low and cook for 45 minutes. Add salt and pepper and red pepper flakes  and shredded chicken if using.Taste and adjust seasoning if desired. Also you can add a bit more broth or water if soup gets too thick. Cover and keep warm until ready to serve.

Directions for Cornbread:

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. While oven is heating add a bit of olive oil to a cast iron skillet and place in oven to get very hot.
  2. Blend together, using a whisk, the cornmeal, flour, baking powder and salt.
  3. Add in the feta and Parmesan cheeses and the Italian herb mixture.
  4. To dry ingredients add 1/4 cup olive oil, egg and milk. Stir until blended.
  5. Remove hot skillet from oven and add cornbread batter. Place back in oven and cook for about 25 minutes or until puffy and golden brown. Serve hot cut  with Minestrone Soup.

Teresa Blackburn   http://www.teresablackburnfoodstyling.com    www.foodonfifth.com