by Heather Harris Brady
I imagine there are lots of people who would argue that there are few foods more American than spoonbread. “George Washington ate it, it was one of Jefferson’s favorites!” I, however, would argue that spoonbread is really just a lush, well-preserved duchess in a long noble line of cornmeal-based cookery. Polenta itself dates back to Roman times and when settlers arrived in the New World to find Native Americans stirring up cornmeal porridge they dressed it up according to their means. Cornmeal porridge seems indemic to many Native American menus, particularly the Low Country, which probably is why today spoonbread is considered a Southern specialty.
In any case, this spoonbread is a light, yet rich side dish that is a nice way to round out soup or a salad into a meal. It could also be a nice thing for brunch or cut into little squares for cute appetizers with a drizzle of honey on top. Think of it as a cross between cornbread and a soufflé. It will rise to the top of the baking dish and fall as it cools.
I used a coarsely ground polenta in the recipe below, but you could easily substitute a more finely ground cornmeal. Just keep in mind that you may need to also adjust the liquid. While I used regular all-purpose flour you could sub in the gluten-free blend of your choice.
Spoonbread, Makes about nine 3” squares
- 1 c. coarsely ground polenta
- 3 c. milk
- 3 eggs, separated
- 2 T. butter
- 1 t. salt
- 1 t. baking powder
- 2/3 c. unbleached all-purpose flour
- 1 t. Cajun seasoning
- 2/3 c. grated parmesan cheese (or other cheese of your choice)
Preheat the oven to 375. Heat the milk over medium heat, whisk in the polenta gradually. Cook, stirring often, for about 15 minutes or until thickened in a porridge. Stir in the butter and salt, let cool for five minutes.
Grease a two-qt. baking dish and dust it with crumbs. Beat the egg whites until stiff but not dry.
Stir the egg yolks into the polenta mixture, followed by the flour, seasoning and baking powder.
Fold in the cheese.
Then the egg whites.
Pour the batter into the baking dish.
Bake for about 35-40 minutes, until it reaches the top of the dish and turns golden brown.
Cut in squares and serve warm from the oven. Feel free to make this recipe your own – add crumbled bacon, veggies (especially sweet corn kernels), whatever strikes your fancy.
One year ago: Walnut Wafers with Goat Cheese, Honey and Thyme