I doubt I need to spell out the ways in which 2016 has been... challenging.
Between international acts of terrorism, national debates about whose life matters more, and a presidential prospect that is just plain terrifying, it's hard to stay focused on the Pantry's mission. I repeatedly find myself sharing a photo of a dish that we're rather proud of and thinking, "Really, is this what I'm talking about right now?" Things are tough out there, spirits are low, and I certainly don't have answers. I opened the Pantry with a vision of bringing people together – to gather, to eat, to celebrate the good things that we can all agree on. One could argue that it's during seasons such as this that we need, more than ever, to plow forward, engaging our neighbors, and sharing a meal. So that's what we're doing. This July the Pantry turned five(!), and we decided to party on. We hung streamers, threw sprinkles everywhere, and baked birthday cake. Because dammit, five years is something to celebrate.
In these past five years we've had thousands of neighbors and visitors walk through our doors and join us at the table. We've seen new friendships made, we've seen romances start, we've seen families grow bigger, and we've seen our own staff expand from just a few to nearly a dozen (with a few babies now on the way!). We've built a new kitchen, watched our garden fill in (and burst right out of its seams), and we've broken bread with so many of you. So: thank you. Thank you for showing up when life is amazing, and thank you for showing up when you've just gotten off of work and could really just head home and get in bed. Thank you for celebrating our birthday with us at a moment when cynicism might feel easier than celebration. We might not be able to solve all the problems around us, but at least we can talk about them over a long meal and a few glasses of bubbly. You know what they say, "the family that drinks together...."
So here we are, turning five, and throwing a dinner party with all of our favorite things:
Smoked new potatoes with whipped ranch and grilled scallion
Buttermilk brined and fried Walla Walla onions with spicy plum-tomato dip
Ginger and honey-brushed peaches with crispy country ham and mint
Corn and feta spoonbread
Charred tomatoes, bacon, snap peas, and hot sauce
Grilled steak with sweet-hot pepper relish, lime-spiced peanuts
Grilled green beans with herby lime gremolata
Grilled stone fruit and bread salad
Fennel, ricotta, purslane, and citrus dressing
Summer strawberry trifle
Strawberry-almond cake and cream cheese mousse
I wrote about the strawberry trifle last year (Fritter's first post!), so this time I'd like to talk to you about my other favorite food: spoonbread.
I can still remember tasting my first spoonbread. It was several years ago in my backyard in San Francisco, at a potluck that our upstairs neighbors were throwing. I’ll admit that, as someone with strong feelings about cornbread, I was skeptical. It was kind of squishy-looking, without the browned, shattery crust of a properly baked southern cornbread. I spooned some on my plate to be polite, and knowing me, covered it with pie (this was also the potluck where I discovered the magical combination of raspberries and almond). Once I took a bite, though, I immediately hunted down the person who brought it. For some reason, they never shared the recipe with me, but I thought about it for years. One day I decided to research spoonbread, to find out what this magical bread was and where it came from. I was appalled to learn that it was a Southern tradition that had somehow never made it into my kitchen. Clearly I had some catching up to do.
When we were dreaming up the menu for the Pantry’s birthday party, spoonbread was on the list. The idea of guests digging into a family-style dish filled with piping hot corn custard and piles of summer vegetables made us so incredibly happy. I had a favorite Serrano ham and poblano corn pudding recipe (from Bon Appetit) that I had been cooking for a while, and Kim turned that into this version with chunks of feta. We like serving this spoonbread with a little sharpness, to cut through the richness. In past years we've served it with marinated roasted peppers and fried capers, but this year we tried out a new version with cherry tomates, sugar snap peas, bacon, and a healthy splash of hot sauce.
- 2 cups raw corn kernels
- 2 large eggs
- 4 ounces unsalted butter, melted
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
- 1 cup sour cream
- 1/2 cup masa harina
- 1 cup crumbled feta
- 2 ounces bacon, diced
- 4 ounces snap peas, sliced 1/4-inch thick
- 1 ounce chopped scallions
- 2 tablespoons high heat oil
- 6 ounces cherry tomatoes
- 2 tablespoons hot sauce, or more to taste (recipe included)
- Salt and black pepper, to taste
Make the Spoonbread:
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Generously butter a 1 1/2 quart baking dish.
Combine the corn, eggs, melted butter, salt, and baking powder in a blender. Blend until almost smooth.
Place the sour cream and masa harina in a large bowl. Pour about 1/3 of the pureed corn mixture into the bowl. Stir well until the mixture is smooth. Pour in the rest of the pureed corn mixture and stir to combine well. Add the feta and stir to evenly distribute. Pour the mixture into the prepared baking dish and place in the oven. Bake until the spoonbread is puffed and golden brown in spots on top, about 45 minutes.
Make the topping:
Place the bacon in a large skillet and place the pan over low heat. Slowly cook the bacon, stirring occasionally, until the fat has rendered and it gets crisp and brown. Add the snap peas and green onions, raise the heat to medium-low, and cook just until they begin to wilt. Remove from the heat and set aside.
Heat the same skillet over medium-high heat. When the pan is hot, add the oil. When the oil is almost smoking, add the tomatoes. Cook until the tomatoes are lightly charred and almost ready to burst, about 2-3 minutes. Remove from heat and add to the bacon mixture.
Stir the hot sauce into the bacon-vegetable mixture. Taste, and add more hot sauce, salt, or pepper, if needed. Spoon over the spoonbread and serve immediately.
- 1 pound red sweet chiles
- 13 ounces jalapenos (red, if you can find them)
- 3 ounces red hot chiles (cherry bomb peppers are great)
- 2 cups distilled vinegar
- 1/4 cup water
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- 3 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
Trim the stems off of the chiles — it’s OK to leave the base that the stem attaches to. Clean the chiles thoroughly.
Toss the chiles in enough olive oil to coat them. Then roast them in a broiler, or grill them. The goal is to get a nice char on them, but not to cook them all the way. I like to see spots of black, but they should retain their bright color.
Puree the roasted chiles in a blender with enough vinegar to keep them moving. Push the pureed chiles through a strainer, extracting as much of the pulp as possible.
Add the water, salt and the rest of the vinegar and chill in the fridge for a few days. You can eat it immediately, but it gets better (and the heat mellows) with time. Stored in the fridge, it will last for up to a year.