Tag Archives: Low country

Ricotta Gnudi with Mortadella Polpetti and Nona’s Fresh Tomato Sugo

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mortadella

Artisan Meat Share Mortadella

Ever since I saw Craig Deihl’s post on Facebook, showing his house made mortadella at Artisian Meat Share, I have been looking forward to trying it. I am inspired by Chef Ken Vedrinski’s (Tratoria Lucca) Ricotta Gnudi with Mortadella Polpetti (little meatballs). Tratoria Lucca is one of my favorite Charleston restaurants and the reason is Ken Vedrinkski. He is a hands on chef owner who absorbs himself in his cuisine in a way that most chefs simply do not hold a candle to. He sources many Italian delicacies on his frequent trips across the Atlantic, finding the most special olive oils, wines and cheeses to bring  back to Charleston. He also has special relationships with fishermen, ranchers and farmers who bring their goods to the back door of his restaurant.

Ken-Vedrinski

Gnudi are gnocchi-like dumplings made with ricotta cheese instead of potato, with very little or no flour. The result is often a lighter, “pillowy” dish, unlike the often denser, more chewy gnocchi.

There are three elements to this meal, they come together in a perfect symphony of flavor and texture.

Tomato Sugo Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1 generous pinch crushed red pepper
  • 8 plum tomatoes, peeled, seeded and crushed
  • 10-12 cloves of garlic, finely minced
  • 1/2 cup of butter
  • Salt to taste

Method: 

  • Place olive oil in a pot over medium heat.
  • Add garlic and chili flakes
  • Saute 2-3 minutes
  • Add tomatoes and butter, blend well and add salt to taste
  • Reduce heat, cover and simmer about 30 minutes. Remove from heat.

Butter in the sauce

Mortadella Polpetti Ingredients: 

  • 4 slices of day-old ciabatta, crust removed
  • 2 cups milk
  • 5 ounces ground pork
  • 5 ounces ground mortadella (if you cannot find it, then use good quality bologna and finely chopped pistachios along with some black pepper)
  • 1/4 cup porcini powder
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 cup ground Parmesan
  • 3 tablespoons chopped flat leaf parsley

Method:

  • Soak cubes in milk for 5 minutes,then squeeze dry.
  • In a large bowl add remaining ingredients until well combined. Cover bowl, then refrigerate 1 hour.
  • Form Polpeti into 1 inch balls.
  • 45 minutes before serving time, add the polpetti to the sauce and put on a simmer burner at very low temp.

Meatballs cooking

Gnudi Ingredients: 

  • 16 ounces good quality fresh ricotta
  • 5 ounces microplaned Locatelli Pecorino Cheese
  • 1 egg
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 2/3 cup 00 flour (available at Italian specialty stores or online), plus more for dusting.

Gnudi Method: 

Gnudi before boiling

  • Mix all ingredients in a large bowl till a dough forms. Be gentle when mixing. cover bowl and chill for 1 hour
  • Dust the bottom of a sheet pan with flour.
  • Place dough on a floured work surface and roll into a 1 1/4 inch diameter log. cut on the bias into one inch pieces.Place on the floured surface
  • Bring a large pot of salted water to boil
  • Shake extra flour from gnudi. gently place in the pot cooked till cooked through. Put in a bowl and toss with the sauce.
  • Serve with freshly grated parm.

gnudi in sauce

My Best Shrimp and Grits Recipe

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grits close up

Living in the Low Country where the best shrimp in the world is harvested, one is soon drawn to a variety of shrimp recipes and there is one dish that is so classically Charleston which always comes to the forefront. This was and still is a great breakfast recipe, but I love it for dinner. There are as many Shrimp and Grits recipes here as there are Charleston kitchens. I play around with the elements, sometimes adding cheese to the grits and sometimes adding chiles or okra to the shrimp element. I always use tomatoes, small shrimp and really good grits.

Grits

Let’s talk about grits for a moment. This dish would be seriously compromised by anything other than the very best stone ground grits you can find. I prefer mixed grits, a combination of yellow and white grits. If you live in Europe, you can use coarse polenta. Polenta is always made with yellow corn. Whereas southern grits are available in yellow and while as well as mixed (my favorite). Speckled grits mean that they leave the hull of the corn on (also my favorite).  I do like polenta for some things, it is not the same as good southern stone ground grits. At the bottom of this post I am adding a few links to what I consider the best online sources for the best grits. I am lucky that I can buy mine from Celeste Albers at the Charleston Farmer’s Market. But you can buy really great grits online now.

shrimp boat

Now, let’s talk shrimp. Buy wild caught when you can. For this recipe I really like small shrimp. Not the tiny ones for salads, but about an inch or two long. Buy them with the shells on and peel just before cooking. If you freeze shrimp, put them in a zip lock bag and fill with water, making an ice block.  There will be no freezer burn. I am lucky to be able to go to the docks and get shrimp caught that day here. You may not be so lucky. Our shrimp season is from June-December give a week or two. This is to promote sustainable fisheries. Our shrimp are born early in the year and grow in our incredible estuaries (a series of creeks, marshes and rivers) and then swim to the sea in late May.

On to the recipe! This is one of my favorites, but I play around with it all of the time.

Shrimp and Grits Sassy Spoon Style

My grits recipe is done in a rice cooker, but if you do not have one, follow instructions on the bag. Here is a link to my recipe: https://sassy-spoon.com/2012/07/19/grits-in-a-rice-cooker-perfection/

Mise en place

Ingredients:

  • One recipe of grits for four, cooked
  • 3/4 pound small shell on shrimp, shelled
  • 1/2 cup of butter &/or olive oil
  • 5 garlic cloves finely chopp
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 1/2 cup of sliced okra (optional)
  • 1/4 cup chives
  • 2 cups tomatoes chopped
  • Pork in one way or another. In this recipe I used a Chinese sausage. You can also add cooked bacon or andouille sausage.
  • Your favorite hot sauce
  • Sea salt and lots of fresh ground black pepper

Method:

  • If using sausage or bacon, brown slightly in a skillet, remove and reserve
  • Put the butter/oil in the skillet
  • Add onion and saute till the onion just starts to turn golden.
  • Add garlic and saute another minute
  • Add tomatoes, herbs, hot sauce and seasonings, cook for 10 minutes on simmer
  • Add shrimp and stir. It will be ready when the shrimp starts to turn pink.
  • Scoop out the grits and top with the shrimp mixture
  • Garnish with chives or parsley

Here are some sources for great stone ground grits.

Husk…. Sean Brock’s Southern Food

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Bon Appetit hailed it as the Best New Restaurant in the US…. accolades have been streaming ever since. It is not all hype, the food is amazing, creative and interesting. Husk is the love child of James Beard Award-winning Chef Sean Brock of McCrady’s and the Neighborhood Dining Group. Since opening Husk in Charleston he opened another outpost of Southern ingredients in Nashville. He recently opened Minero, a taqueria in the high rent district of downtown Charleston. There is word that he is also taking that concept to Atlanta where the Neighborhood Dining Group is headquartered. He transforms the essence of Southern food over and over again. Solid… delicious… promising. Sean is dedicated to bringing back old Southern grains, beans, greens and other treasures that were all but lost. He is the champion of the old non-gmo crops that were grown 200 years ago in the south. His food reflects that without being obvious. It is just delicious food, and then you learn its history and all of the work that went into bringing it to the table.

Led by Brock and Chef de Cuisine Travis Grimes, a Lowcountry native, the kitchen reinterprets the bounty of the surrounding area, exploring an ingredient-driven cuisine that begins in the rediscovery of heirloom products and redefines what it means to cook and eat in Charleston.

Starting with a larder of ingredients indigenous to the South, and set within a building complex dating to the late 19th century, Brock crafts menus throughout the day, responding to what local purveyors are supplying the kitchen at any given moment. The entrance beckons with a rustic wall of firewood to fuel the wood-fired oven and a large chalkboard listing artisanal products currently provisioning the kitchen, but like the décor that inhabits the historic building, the food is modern in style and interpretation.

At Husk there are some rules about what can go on the plate. “If it doesn’t come from the South, it’s not coming through the door,” says Brock, who has even stricken olive oil from the kitchen. As he explains, the resulting cuisine “is not about rediscovering Southern cooking, but exploring the reality of Southern food.” This modern approach results in playful dishes such as Deviled Eggs with Pickled Okra and Trout Roe, and new classics like South Carolina Shrimp and Choppee Okra Stew with Carolina Gold Rice and Flowering Basil.

Seed-saving, heirloom husbandry, and in-house pickling and charcuterie efforts by the culinary team are the basis of the cuisine at Husk. The restaurant is as casual as it is chic, evoking a way of life centered on seasonality and the grand traditions of Charleston life—one lived at a slower pace, preferably with a cocktail and a wide porch in the late afternoon. It is a neighborhood gathering place for friends, and a destination dining spot for travelers, with a little bite of the South for everyone’s palates.

These photos are from my lunch there with Nathalie Dupree and Holly Herrick, two Charleston based friends of mine than rank in the upper echelons of Food Writers.  And so we were treated to many things that we did not order. On of the most amazing things that day was totally unexpected, the fried chicken skin with honey and hot sauce. It is a dish I have reconstructed at home a few times. I also reconstructed Husk’s Sweet Tea Brined Kentuckyaki Chicken Wings and you can get the recipe here.

A Chef With the Heart of a Servant at Swig & Swine

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AnthonyLast week I had the pleasure of spending a few hours with a remarkable man, Chef Anthony DiBernardo of the relatively new smoked meat (A.K.A. BBQ)  restaurant … Swig and Swine. His restaurant is new to the Low Country, but he is not. He has been cooking all over the Charleston area for many years. I was so impressed when I heard his story that I just had to meet him and do a profile to share it with y’all. If you are a frequent follower of this blog, you know I do not do restaurant reviews any more, that was relegated to my Chicago days. But I have been writing about food, where it comes from and who is cooking it for the last 14 years, sometimes in publications, sometimes on my blogs and Facebook. Here is the story of a Chef who has the heart of a servant. 

Click on any of these pics for a close up…

In the Beginning:

Anthony comes from rural southern New Jersey, technically in the suburbs of Philadelphia. Born to a Scotch Irish mother and Italian father he was the youngest of four children, the other three sisters, who were 16, 14 and 7 when he came into this world. His maternal grandmother died when she was young, so Anthony’s Italian grandmother taught his mother to cook. All she knew was Italian food. There were many big family gatherings full of wonderful food.

At the age of 14, Tony started a dish washing job at a local country club owned by Ron Jaworski. He took to the back of the house like a fish to water, quickly climbing to the hot line. By the time he was a Junior in high school he was working on the line at the Tellford Inn. That is the time he decided to enter the US Navy because his parents were about to retire and he did not want them to have to put him through college. He signed on with a delayed enlistment the summer of his Junior year. As soon as he graduated from High School in 1990 he was off to San Diego for 60 days of cooking school. He went to Submarine School in Connecticut and his first deployment was to Charleston where he stood stunned to find he was to submarine Batfish “687,” the same number as his parents’ address and his grandfather’s winning lottery number. It was no accident. He teared up telling me the story.

Cooking Underwater:
Imagine being one of three chefs cooking day in and out for 130 people on a nuclear submarine, never knowing exactly where you will be going or how long you will be there. They would put fresh provisions inside the torpedo tubes and switch the refrigerators to freezers for long hauls. They did all baking in the galley because that much bread would take up valuable storage space. He kept busy taking video courses, including one on Poetry by Maya Angelou.

A Charleston Chef is Born:
In May of 1994, Anthony climbed out of the submarine and started cooking all over Charleston. Starting at Blossom, then venturing on to the old resort at Kiawah where he was executive chef for four years. He assisted in opening the new hotel and all of their kitchens. It was a tough time, working long hotel hours, weekends, holidays and special events. In 2001, his son was born and he knew that he had to make a lifestyle change. He took some time off and at a church retreat he met Sal Parco, the owner of the Dine with Sal Restaurant Group. Anthony took the helm of the culinary team and opened The Long Point Grill, Uno Mas and Mustard Seed. After seven years, he moved on to Kickn’ Chicken Restaurant Group’s Rita’s on Folly Island. It was sold to Hall’s Hospitality Group in July of 2013 and that is when Anthony started to think about what he was going to do.

Dreaming:
He took 30 days to develop a game plan and drove around West Ashley scoping out locations. He fell in love with the old OK Tire Store and its retro look. It was next door to The Glass Onion, a popular spot for dining. He got the keys and walked the old store using graph paper to design his kitchen, dining room, smoker areas and bar. Suddenly there was a call from Steve Kish, chef and co-owner of 82 Queen, along with Johnathan and Patrick Kish, they wanted to talk to Anthony about opening a restaurant on the peninsula. He sold them another idea. A deal was struck and they became 50/50 partners in the new concept, Swig and Swine. It took every penny Anthony had and some of his family members’ funds to come up with his half of the opening investment.

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The Dream Comes to Life:
Permits were applied for in October 2013. The process was a long one and they did not all come through until March 2014. So what does a hard working chef do for five months while waiting for those permits? He builds the tables, the bars, the benches and the work spaces of the restaurant. He designed the smokers with the guys at Gorilla Fabrication. After the fancier one in front of the store, they tweaked the second one, adding more insulation to the smoke box. Each one is running several nights a week, fired by oak and hickory and finished off with pecan. At midnight at least three nights a week, Anthony starts the fires in both smokers. He has an assistant tending the smokers when he is not there. He spends all night minding the smokers, adjusting the flues and taking short cat naps on the wooden benches in the dining room. He works around the restaurant and leaves about 4 pm when he can spend some time with his wife, 12 year old son and 8 year old daughter, sometimes returning back to the smokers again at midnight.

Brisket

The Food:
DiBernadino emphasizes that his place is a smoked meat restaurant, not just another BBQ joint. He broke from tradition by approaching the restaurant from a Chef’s perspective. Nothing is pre-processed. Everything depends on the food in those smokers every night. One bad move and they lose business for an entire day. 40 pound batches of meat are smoked and cooked 3 to 4 times in a 24 hour shift. When he is not spending the night next to the wood boxes, he keeps an eye on the smokers using remote cameras.

Brisket, chicken, turkey, pork belly, wings, ribs, house-made sausage and pork butt all have their place on the smokers. Freshly prepared smoked meats are placed in the case in the dining room just before lunch service and more continue smoking through the day so that the dinner service has fresh smoked meat. The wings and ribs have a dry rub with spices, everything else just gets old fashioned salt and pepper. Leftovers are usually made into a special sandwich. I had one with leftover ribs from the day before… incredible. It was on jalapeno corn bread loaf with BBQ onions and house made pimento cheese.

The sauces are all made in house, as are the sides which vary from day to day. The day I was there there was a fantastic dish with brussels sprouts, smoked mushrooms and béchamel sauce. The usual suspects are mac & cheese, collard greens (very well done), hash and rice, beans with brisket, baked potato salad, coleslaw, Brunswick stew and pickled vegetables. There are also house-made cucumber pickles on every plate with a slice of white bread and slices of onion.

Taps

Drink Up! The bar :
There are 52 Bourbons including 2 bottles of Pappy Van Winkle that reside under lock and key at night. He has recently started smoking bourbon, to make some of the best Manhattans on the planet. A terrific list of craft beers on tap and plenty more in bottles. Wines are also available. And of course there is plenty of sweet tea.

 

Anthony and Pappy

A Servant’s Heart:
Anthony confessed to me that it is all about giving his heart, talent and compassion to those who sit at his tables. He would not have it any other way. He also gives back to the community in a multitude of ways. He cooks and donates food to a variety of causes, and at this moment is collecting money to support the Ronald McDonald House’s Red Shoes Campaign. Thanksgiving he is not taking the day off. He is generously serving up a huge Thanksgiving dinner for those who do not have family here in Charleston. We are two of the lucky people that will be a part of that dinner. I will report on that soon.

Red Shoes

Smoked Pork Butt Porchetta Style

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This is one of the most delicious recipes and the meat can be used in so many ways after the original meal. You can make pulled pork and porcini gravy over grits/polenta, pulled pork sandwiches with BBQ sauce, tacos, as a topping for fresh pasta, empanadas, tostados and tamales among other things. The spices in the porchetta filling are distinctly Latin and permeate the meat along with the smoke. Keep in mind that “Latin” includes Italy as well as Latin America. If you do not have a smoker, you can get the flavor by Braising the butt with liquid smoke and beer in a slow cooker or oven before you add the bourbon and do the second braise.

I have not posted in several weeks. I had a knee injury that kept me from doing a lot of cooking. It is getting better or at least the cortisone injection is making it feel that way. It is good to be able to stand for more than a few minutes again. Meanwhile the Low Country is in it’s early summer glory after we suffered through an unusual plant killing winter. It is so great to see green and blooms again.

Smoked Butt Porchetta Style

Ingredients:

  • A large, well marbled pork butt (shoulder) with the fat on one side. Bone in is fine.
  • 1 large bunch of flat leaf parsley
  • 1/2 cup cumin seeds
  • 1/2 cup fennel seeds
  • 1/2 cup corriander seeds
  • 12 cloves of garlic
  • Olive oil
  • 1 Cup of Bourbon for braising

Method:

  • Put the seeds in a dry non stick pan and toast till you start to hear them pop. Remove and allow to cool

Porchetta seeds

  • In a food processor place the parsley, garlic, cooled seeds and a drizzle of olive oil. Pulse till a thick paste is developed. You may need to add more oil to make a paste.

Porchetta seeds.in blender

  • Place one inch deep and wide slits all around the meat about 1″ apart.
  • Fill each slit with the paste. If there is any paste left, rub it all over the meat.

porchetta ready for smoker

  • Place the butt fat side up in the smoker on lowest temperature. I used apple wood this time, but I often use maple or cherry.
  • Smoke for 8 hours do not let the heat get higher than 250.

Porchetta in smoker

  • Remove to a dutch oven or slow cooker pour the bourbon over the meat and cover. Bake on lowest temperature the oven will go to for another 8 hours or if using a crock pot, leave the lid slightly ajar. Cook on low for 10 hours.

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I made a gravy using porcini mushrooms the drippings from the meat (removed fat by chilling) and some cornstarch. For the first meal I served it with polenta/grits and it was delicious. Then on the next day we had pulled pork sandwiches and a few days later, we are having pulled pork tacos!

Cook it Raw Charleston ~ Part One

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Yesterday was a culinary memory I will never forget. I was invited to be a volunteer for Cook It Raw’s finale food fest, BBQ Perspectives at Bowen’s Island representing Les Dames d’ Escoffier and The Spice and Tea Exchange.. For those of you who do not know about Cook it Raw, it is a Chef’s Only week of discovery and learning about a region and its food that involves most of the truly important culinary luminaries in the world. The word “Raw” implies on the edge, not uncooked. So, from all corners of the world, the chefs came, they learned, they tasted and then they cooked. They cooked for each other and for the first time in the history of the event, they cooked for the public. It is difficult to put the experience completely into words, but in general I would say that it was one of the supreme dining experiences of my life, and I have eaten all over the world and in much fancier places than outdoors on the river with the briny smells of the marsh and happy music playing. At every turn there was amazing interesting food created with local ingredients and using creative wood fired methods.

Sean Brock laughing

Chef Sean Brock at Cook it Raw’s BBQ Perspectives

The man at the helm of Cook it Raw Charleston was Chef Sean Brock, a true visionary when it comes to the food of the South. The local chef community who have been committed to the renaissance of Lowcountry cuisine for almost 20 years; Frank Lee – Slightly North of Broad; Mike Lata – FIG & The Ordinary; Chris Stewart and Sarah O’Kelley – The Glass Onion; Michelle Weaver – The Charleston Grill; Craig Deihl – Cypress Restaurant; Ken Vedrinski – Coda del Pesce and Trattoria Lucca; Robert Stehling – The Hominy Grill; Jeremiah Bacon – The Macintosh & The Oak Steakhouse; Jacques Larson – Wild Olive Restaurant; Bob Carter – Carter’s Kitchen and Rutledge Cab Company; Josh Keeler – Two Boroughs Larder.

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It was a smoke filled event with over 12 open wood pits and about 15 smoker “rigs” set up. The larger of the rigs belonged to South Carolina’s premiere BBQ team, Rodney Scott’s Whole Pig BBQ, which had just returned from a stint in New York City. People waited for the pig to be lifted and pulled from the bone, mixed with the sauce and served up with chitlins and white bread in traditional South Carolina style.

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“Tradition” stopped right there. Every other team created a whole new perspective.  on BBQ. While there was a lot of truly innovative and delicious food using our Low Country ingredients.

The team that totally blew my mind came from Toronto of all places. Team Canada made plates from slices of birch and from salt and hay. They made a beef tongue BBQ with sea horn berries, pecans puff grains, beans all mixed with a killer sauce. They also baked salmon in clay and made packets of grape leaves with Carolina sticky rice, quinoa, bison sausage, peanuts, maple syrup and quince. Good eh?

team canada collageTeam Canada: 

And then there was Brandon Baltzley (from Chicago) who lead the Irish Team’s concept of Low Country Boil with grilled pig heads, corn, fingerlings and head on local shrimp.

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The International Chefs came from all over the world:

More to come in part 2, like the event, there is just too much to consume at once!

 

Best Fried Green Tomatoes… Southern Bliss

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Fried Green Tomatoes

I never even thought of Fried Green Tomatoes as a recipe until a few people asked me how to make them. They are super easy and very tasty when done right. My great grandmother used to make them, though hers were made with just flour, not the combo of flour and cornmeal that I use now. This method if dredging, dipping and dredging again is the secret to fried chicken and most any coated fried food. The final dredge changes, anything from seasoned flour to panko, but the method stays the same. In the fall green tomatoes are pulled from the vines before first frost, but here in the south, people treasure them all year and green tomatoes are sold in our farmer’s markets. To keep them from ripening, store in the refrigerator till ready to use. They will keep several weeks. I never refrigerate ripe tomatoes, as that kills the sweetness.

fried green tomatoes

Set up a dredging station:

Pan 1: All Purpose flour

Pan 2 :1 cup of buttermilk 1-2 eggs whisked in

Pan 3: This is where you get a little creative:

Then slice up the green tomatoes about 1/2 inch thick. This thickness allows for a crispy crust and tender interior.

Heat canola or peanut oil to 350 degrees in a frying pan, about 1  1/2 inches deep.

Dredge the tomato slices in the flour, then the buttermilk mixture, making sure that the entire slice is covered in liquid.

Finally dredge the slices in the seasoned flour, making sure that all surfaces are covered.

Place in the frying pan, taking care not to crowd. fry till crispy and golden brown on each side and remove to a rack to drain. Repeat.

They can be served with a remoulade sauce, sweet chile sauce or put them on a BLT! They are even good cold.

Fried Green Tomatoes and Remoulade