Tag Archives: Low country

Heart Woodfire Kitchen

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Tucked away off of Folly Road on James Island, Heart Woodfire Kitchen is a very special place. It is fun and hip and the first thing that hits you when you open the door is the sweet deep aroma of wood burning. This touches me tenderly, as I once owned a wood burning oven at my cooking school in Chicago and I miss it so much. The very core of this place is the Valoriani wood burning oven and a wood fired rotisserie grill. It does not stop there. Clever cocktails, local produce, pork and chicken raised in the Low Country, nice wine and beer selections and a creative upscale menu without being pretentious. This is not fast food, not BBQ and not white tablecloth dining, it is great flavorful dining at the mid price level, something we do not have a lot of in Charleston.

We went on a Tuesday night after going to see a film. It was balmy outside, so we opted for outside dining. The restaurant was unusually busy for a Tuesday and it was obvious that this was a bit unexpected for the staff. The assistant manager became our server because they were short staffed and we were very lucky because she was on top of her game and gave us second glasses of wine on the house because the kitchen was jammed. The food was excellent. Full of smoky flavor and interesting textures.

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We started with a small order of one of their “Speidie,” little skewers. cooked close to the flame. We had the Fontina wrapped in prosciutto & balsamic with a wheat berry salad. 2 skewers for just $6, quite the perfect thing to nibble on while you are drinking one of their fabulous cocktails. They offer two other Speidie, one with Beef Short ribs, rosemary oil & almonds and another with Bacon wrapped Chicken Livers & chimichurri. The menu has several other small plates including some interesting soups& salads  that change with the seasons.

We shared  a spinach salad with roasted beets, wheat berries, romaine,onions and a green garlic vinaigrette.  It was crisp and yet warming with the roasted beets. The green garlic vinaigrette was perfect. I would have liked a little piece of their fabulous house made bread to go with it.
spinach salad
My husband ordered the blackened catfish sandwich which comes on one  of their sturdy house made rolls. It was round and he was expecting more of a poor boy style bread, but the flavors were fabulous and the fish was crusty with spices on the exterior and warm, tender and white on the interior, just as it should be. He ordered creamed mustard greens as his side and they were stellar. I had a few bites and we brought the rest home because after a bag of popcorn at the movies we were fuller than we thought we were.

flat bread

I had one of their signature flat breads, really a crispy little pizza. I opted for the vegetable flat bread with Acorn Squash & Goat Cheese, fennel, cauliflower & arugula pesto.I bought some home and will be having it for lunch today.

We are looking forward to going back and trying some of their local fish from the wood fired oven. We also saw dishes of their baked pasta with four cheeses walk past us and they looked delicious. Their rotisserie chicken looked fantastic and I can only imagine that their Grilled Butcher’s Steak with roasted mushrooms & onions, herb butter is fantastic. The Wood Fired Vegetable Stew, basmati rice, basil pesto, lemon yogurt, toasted almonds & apricots also sounds interesting to me.

Wood fire cooking

They have an extensive lunch menu and what looks like a fun brunch menu. They have happy hour from 4-6 and the offerings are a good way to taste several things at a reduced price.

My suggestion? Run don’t walk to this hidden gem of a restaurant. Heart Woodfire Kitchen at 1622 Highland Ave Charleston SC 29412  (843) 718-1539 Look for this sign off of Folly Road:
Heart woodfire

Crab Rellenos: Cangrejo Rellenos

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Crab Rellenos

Here in the low country, Blue Crabs abound. But what do you do with all of that crab meat? It is sweet stuff, but not served on the half shell like Dungeness or King Crab. You have to meticulously pick the crab from her tiny shells. So this will be the first in a series of crab adventures. Things you can do with this lovely little Low Country crustacean.

blue-crab-

Day 1:

Make the sauce (below) this can be made up to a week in advance

Make basic filling using 1 pound of crab meat. Here is a primer on how to cook and pick the crabs. You can of course always go to your fish monger and get a pound of crab meat. It is available pasturized in cans. If you buy this, ask for lump meat.

Whip 2 large packages of cream cheese. Add them to the crab and thoroughly blend. Remove 1/3 of this mixture for crab rangoon, tomorrow’s treat.

Ingredients for Relleno Base:

3 ears of grilled Corn on the Cob, cut from the cob

1 cup of grated sharp cheddar, 1 cup of grated jack cheese

1/2 cup of fresh cojita cheese crumbles

2 red onions medium chop, sauteed and caramelized

Add 1 tablespoon of finely chopped garlic into the onions for the last 4 minutes of cooking.

3 green onions finely chopped

1/2 cup slow roasted grape tomatoes cut in quarters

Stir all of this together  

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Poblano Peppers (you can also use the smaller, thinner Anaheim Chile), slit clean and roasted then peel. This part can be tricky. I have learned that if you remove the seeds and membranes before putting them on the grill, they come out easier and there is less ripping of the pepper. Do this by making a T shaped cut, horizontally across the top and then one vertical slit from top to bottom. This picture is of Anaheim chiles on the grill. Grilling-Poblano-PeppersWhenever I grill peppers, I always retain few, usually ones that have torn to be used in sauces and fillings, or ropas. Once you roast your peppers on the grill or the open flame of your stove, place them in a plastic bag to steam. The skin will come off much easier then.

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Allow the peppers to cool and then stuff with the filling. Bring the opening as close together as you can. Since there are only two of us and these are big peppers, I only made two. But you can certainly make at least 6 with this amount of filling. I am going to be making some other dishes with the filling.

Relleno coating:

(for two large peppers, double it for 4)

4 eggs, separated

3 Tablespoons cream

salt

flour for dredging

about 1 inch of oil in a large frying pan

roll the peppers through the flour till coated

While the oil is heating, whip the egg whites & salt till they have stiff peaks. Whisk the yolks with the cream. Fold into the whites carefully.

When the oil is about 250 degrees, take a large spoon and put enough of the egg mixture into the oil to make a bed for the pepper. It will spread slightly. lay the pepper down, then cover with more egg mixture. After about 2 minutes carefully turn the pepper and cook on the other side till golden brown. Place on a drip pan and put in a warm oven while you continue the process.

Sauce and plate: You can choose any kind of sauce for this, but this is the one I made ahead of time. The base is something I use for enchiladas and other meals. I added cream and sherry to lighten this one up because the peppers and crab are so delicate.

New Mexico Rojo

1 cup New Mexico Red Chiles

2 tablespoons masa (finely ground)

2 tablespoons butter

2 cups chicken stock

Melt the butter in a saucepan, slowly stir in the masa,  till a roux is formed. Whisk in the chicken broth and simmer. Allow to simmer for a while adding more stock as it thickens.

For the relleno sauce I then added 1 cup of cream and stirred for a while, letting it reduce a bit, then about 1/4 of Spanish sherry. Stir again and then turn off the heat.

Plating: 

Use a small plate with a good upturn to hold the sauce. Puddle the sauce on the plate, then add the relleno. Squiggle crema on top. Serve with a simple salad of radishes, pea shoots, pepitas and cojita.

 

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Guinness Braised Short Ribs

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short ribs 1
Ecstatic Meaty Velvet…. that is how I describe the end result of this dish. Short ribs are covered with spices and then seared, then the vegetables are caressed by the fire and finally the braising liquid of tomatoes, porcini mushroom broth and Guinness are married to the pot. In go the short ribs and they braise for 2.5 hours while the sauce concentrates as the veggies become succulent. I served them this time over Yukon Gold mashed potatoes with creme fraiche instead of milk. Sometimes I do them over grits. This is the kind of meal that ends with pristinely clean plates, except for those bones which gave up their marrow in the dish.  A sacrifice well appreciated.

short ribs raw

Here is how you do it, feel free to exchange out the spices to your personal palate, this is just what works for me. You will need 6-8 meaty English Cut short ribs to feed two. This recipe can be doubled, but when you brown the ribs, do it in batches.

spice blend

Spice Blend: 

1/4 cup of brown sugar or 1/4 cup of Sweet Onion Sugar (or you can do 50/50)

1 Tablespoon Sweet Smoked Paprika (or Hungarian Sweet Paprika)

2 Tablespoons Vik’s Garlic Fix

2 Tablespoons Bloody Mary Seasoning (or good black pepper if you don’t have it, the full bodied flavor is worth seeking out)

1 Tablespoon dry mustard

 

Alternately, you can use some much more conventional spices if you don’t have access to the above blends:

The smoked paprika is essential,  find it.

  • 3 tablespoons of salt
  • 1/4  cup of brown sugar
  • 3 tablespoons of fresh ground pepper
  • 2 tablespoons of garlic salt
  • 1 tablespoon of dry mustard

 

short ribs veggies en place

Sofrito: 

1 cup of re-hydrated dried shallots, drained or 4 medium leeks chopped (pale white part only)

4 tablespoons of home rendered lard or olive oil

4 carrots chopped into medium sized pieces

3 celery ribs chopped into medium sized pieces

2 bay leaves (4 if using fresh)

10 cloves garlic, chopped

1 cup of dried porcini mushrooms re-hydrated and then strained, reserving liquid

For even more mushroom flavor, add 1/4 cup of kibbled mushrooms

1 440 mil can of guiness

1 28 ounce can of chopped tomatoes with the liquid

Method:

Preheat oven to 375 (I use convection roast setting). Be sure that you will have room for the lidded pot or dutch oven to fit on the rack on the lower third of the oven.

Pat ribs dry and and arrange in a sheet pan.

short ribs seasoned

Blend the spice mix and generously coat the ribs with it on all sides. There will be some leftover, reserve it.

Heat the lard or oil in a large deep pan or dutch oven. Brown the ribs taking care not to crowd them, do them in batches if your pan is not large enough. This should take about 1 minute per side.

short ribs browning

Transfer meat back to the sheet pan and ad the shallots, carrots, celery and bay leaves to the pot and cook over moderate low heat, stirring occasionally until vegetables begin to soften (about 3 minutes), clear a hot spot and add garlic. Cook for 1 more minute. Stir in mushrooms.

Add broth, beer and tomatoes with their juice, then add the ribs and any remaining spices and spoon the sauce over the ribs. Bring to a boil uncovered

short ribs ready for oven

Cover and place in the oven and braise for 2.5 hours, checking after about 1.5 hours to see if more liquid is needed, if so add beer, stock or water.

short ribs in oven

Remove from oven and allow to rest for about 10 minutes. Serve over mashed potatoes, grits or polenta. Click here for the perfect grits/polenta recipe.

short ribs close up

I doubt that there will be any meat left, but if there is it makes amazing tacos. Any veggies/sauce left are great for a soup, just add more liquid and puree.

If you liked this, you might also enjoy Smoked and Braised Pork Shoulder Latin Style.

Smoked and Braised Pork Shoulder Latin Style

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plate 2 This recipe has been one I have used for years. I used to make it at my cooking school for Cuban Night. I change out a few things here and there to go more Italian or more Cuban. Even if you do not have a smoker this is delicious braised or done in a slow cooker or dutch oven. You simply make a paste in the food processor and then make slits in the pork shoulder (bone in or out, your choice). Marinate it over night, smoke the next morning and then finish it off in a crock pot or in a dutch oven in the oven.  Note: I do not add salt before cooking, but I offer it at the table. 

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Ingredients:

1 cup each of packed cilantro and flat leaf parsley

1/3 cup each of coriander, cumin and fennel seeds toasted

30 cloves of garlic

1/4 cup crushed red pepper (the kind you put on pizza)

1/4 cup pink pepper berries (optional)

1 tablespoon hickory powder if you are not smoking the meat

1/4 cup olive oil (I use smoked oil that I make)

1 5-7 pound pork shoulder (get them on sale and freeze)

2# Yukon Gold Potatoes

3 large onions, quartered

2 cans of beer

1/4 cup Spice and Tea Exchange Sweet Onion Sugar (optional)

Method:

Put the cilantro, parsley seeds, garlic, pepper berries, crushed red pepper, hickory powder if you are not smoking and the olive oil in a food processor. Pulse till you have a thick paste.

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Put on latex gloves if you have them, this gets messy. Cut 1 1/2 inch slits into the meat on all sides. Stuff the slits with the paste. If you have any paste left over, smear it on the meat. Wrap tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate 12-24 hours.
porchetta
Remove the meat from the refrigerator and allow to come to room temperature. Meanwhile set up your smoker and turn your grill on high.

Sear the meat on all sides on the grill. Then place in the smoker at about 200 degrees over a drip pan and smoke for 6 hours. If you do not have a smoker, go directly to the slow cooker or roaster but cook for 8-10 hours on low.

Porchetta out of the smoker

Prepare the roaster or slow cooker by placing a bed of Yukon Gold potatoes (small ones or cut larger ones in half) and the onions. Sometimes I add other root vegetables too. Place the meat directly on the bed of veggies. pour two cans or bottles of beer over the meat. Sprinkle the sweet onion sugar all over.

Roast at 350 degrees covered with foil or in a dutch oven. Or you can use a slow cooker on high for 4 hours (either method).  It is just that easy. The leftovers are sometimes my favorite part… tamales, tacos pulled pork sandwiches. 🙂

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New Years Fun Food: Collard Green Empanadas

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empanadas with sauce

I had a New Years Day dinner party and decided to have a Hispanic theme. I usually make my Chiles en Nogada for Christmas, but I was busy working on Christmas Eve and decided to postpone that tradition till New Years. I have done a lot of regional Mexican and South American cooking, spent a great deal of time in Latin America from a young age and went to cooking school in Mexico.  Since moving to the Low Country, I have been interested in the spin that my friend Sandra A. Gutierrez has put on some of the traditional Latino recipes and ingredients in her book The New Southern-Latino Table. I decided to incorporate a few of her recipes into my menu for New Years and the first one  was Collard Green Empanadas. In the south it is a tradition to eat two things on New Years, greens  which represent folded money and black eyed peas which represent good luck. Sandra had recipes using both ingredients, so I made them her way with a few twists of my own.

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Here is the recipe for the empanadas. She suggested frying  store bought empanada dough or baking pastry dough. and I wanted to bake, so I used store bought pie pastry & baked them because of the time and mess crunch with all of the other parts of the meal I was doing. But you can make them with your favorite pastry dough too. I have filling leftover and plan on doing that next weekend.

Heat oven to 375

Ingredients: 

  • 2 Tablespoons Bacon Drippings (or vegetable oil)
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped red onion or shallots
  • 4 garlic cloves finely chopped in a a teaspoon of salt
  • 1 bag of chopped frozen collard greens
  • 1/2 cup cooked and chopped bacon (I bake my bacon with Sweet Onion Sugar on it)
  • 1 8 ounce package of cream cheese
  • 1/2 cup cojita or fresco cheese (optional) these cheeses can be found at Hispanic markets or most grocery stores now days.
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne
  • 1/4 teaspoon chipotle powder
  • 1 egg whisked
  • Raw sugar for topping
  • 16 empanada disks or 1 package of Pillsbury pie dough.

Method:

Empanadas

  • In a large skillet heat the oil/drippings and cook the onions till translucent. Add the garlic and saute for about 20 seconds, then add the drained collard greens. Saute for a few minutes and remove from the heat, cool for 20 minutes. Add cheeses and spices.
  • On a floured surface roll out the pie dough to an increase of about 25%. Cut circles with a biscuit cutter or glass. *you can make them bigger if you have a larger cutter, using more filling.
  • Put a teaspoon of filling on each disk and brush the egg wash around the edges. Close and seal, using a fork to crimp the edges. Use the remaining egg was on top of the empanadas. Sprinkle with the flavored sugar. Top with Habenero Sugar. Bake for 20 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature with salsa.

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Grilled Corn and Lobster Chowder

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It is the peak of summer. Time for lobster and corn on the cob. While both are abundant, I decided to make a Chowder on a rainy summer day. It is not hard at all. I used lobster tails that I found on sale and some claws I had frozen for this, but usually I use live lobsters. I always save the shells for stock. This makes enough for 6 servings and reheats well.

Ingredients: 

  • 2 (1 1/2-pound) cooked lobsters, cracked and split (reserve shells) Boil in Spice and Tea Exchange Crab and Shrimp Boil
  • 4 ears corn

For the stock:

  • 6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter
  • 2  yellow onions finely chopped
  • 1/2 cup sherry
  • 1 teaspoon sweet smoked paprika
  • 4 cups whole milk
  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 1 cup dry vermouth

For the chowder:

Method:

  • Remove the meat from the shells of the lobsters. Cut the meat into large cubes and place them in a bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate.
  • Reserve the shells and all the juices that collect.
  • Grill the corn by removing the stocks and silk, spray lightly with olive oil. Grill on medium heat for 2 minutes on each side.
  • Allow the corn to cool, then cut the corn kernels from the cobs and set aside, reserving the cobs for stock. I use a great corn cutter made by OXO. It really works well. There are not a lot of gadgets that impress me, but this one does.

For the stock:

  • Melt the butter in a stockpot or Dutch oven large enough to hold all the lobster shells and corncobs.
  • Add the onion and cook over medium-low heat for 7 minutes, until translucent but not browned, stirring occasionally.
  • Add the sherry and paprika and cook for 1 minute.
  • Add the milk, cream, wine, lobster shells and their juices, and corn cobs and bring to a simmer. Partially cover the pot and simmer the stock over the lowest heat for 30 minutes.

For the chowder:

  • In another stockpot place the shallots, celery and butter or olive oil. Stir until slightly translucent.
  • Add the potatoes, corn kernels, salt, and pepper to the same pot and saute for 5 minutes.
  • Add the flour and stir in and add a ladle full of the stock.
  • Remove the largest pieces of lobster shell and the corn cobs with tongs and discard.
  • Place a strainer over the soup pot and carefully pour the stock into the pot with the potatoes and corn.
  • Simmer over low heat for 15 minutes, until the potatoes are tender. Add the cooked lobster, the chives,  and the sherry and season to taste. Heat gently and serve hot.

Charleston’s Newest Restaurant

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There are some new kids on the block. I say kids because Nicole and Jay Kees are at least as young as my adult children. Though they are well seasoned food adventurers who arrived in Charleston, South Carolina just 12 weeks ago to open their new eatery, Angel Oak Restaurant.  I was invited to attend a media dinner at Angel Oak last night and I was pleasantly pleased. It is not just the interesting locally based seasonal food that caught my eye, but attention to the smallest details in the choices for decor and service ware. The restaurant has a very personal feel to it and that is because everything in it was hand picked from antique markets in upstate New York before the Kees moved to Charleston. Antique bottles filled with herbs are on each table and in window frames, the tables which are covered in brown paper are set with vintage china and when you order coffee, the cream comes in old pint milk bottles. The toile banquettes were hand made by the couple, chairs bought on Craigs List and antique doors provide cover for the busing station. Though the mason jar drinking glasses are a southern staple, the decor is fresh, art filled and not at all cloying.

Now, let’s talk about the food. The Angel Oak Restaurant has a seasonal locally inspired menu which is printed up daily. All pasta is made in house. Sauces & condiments are made from scratch and interestingly presented. Their supper menu includes appetizers such as oysters on the half shell with fresh horseradish, champagne mignonette ($7), deep fried bacon drizzled with a Buffalo sauce served with home made blue cheese dressing ($6), Port Wine Pate fresh creamy chicken liver pate, green tomato chow-chow, pickled vegetables, selection of mustards, toast points ($8) and Lobster Mac with fresh lobster, creamy herbed champagne cheese sauce and a baked panko crust ($12) among other offerings.

Port Wine Pate~fresh creamy chicken liver pate, green tomato chow-chow
pickled vegetables, selection of mustards, toast points

They also have a fun “snack” menu for just $3 you can have a taste of House-Made Ricotta with toast points and local honey,  Fried Green Tomatoes, Deviled Eggs and Yorkshire Pudding with Gravy. It is a playful way to taste some really interesting flavors. At our table the house made ricotta was a big hit.

House made ricotta with honey

Fried Bacon with Buffalo Sauce and house made blue cheese
Pate with house made pickles, mustard and green tomato chow chow

Entrees, salads and sandwiches fill out the rest of the supper menu. The entrees vary from Southern staples (Chef Kees is from Southern Missisippi and trained at the C.I.A.) to interesting plays of local ingredients. Their stellar Buttermilk Fried Chicken, drizzled with five spice herb honey served with  macaroni and cheese gratin and collard greens ($17) made several diners smile. Shrimp Carbonara with sautéed Low Country shrimp, house made pasta with peas, roasted lardons of local bacon tossed in a creamy herb sauce ($16). My Steak Au Poivre; seared peppercorn crusted local grass fed sirloin finished with a brandy cream sauce were served with herbed shoestring fries in a brown paper bag ($21) was a perfectly cooked medium rare. Other offerings round out the supper menu. Sides ($3) include herbed shoestring fries, macaroni and cheese gratin, roasted corn on the cob,creamed smashed potatoes, stone ground grits, braised carrots, collard greens & seasonal vegetables.

Classic Steak Au Poivre ~ seared peppercorn crusted sirloin finished with a brandy cream sauce & herbed shoestring fries

Perfectly cooked crispy fries served in a brown paper bag

After all of that good food, it might be difficult to save room for dessert, but their banana pudding served in a jelly jar was worth the extra calories.

Banana Puddiing

Restaurant owners: Executive Chef Jay Kees and Manager Nicole Kees

Sunday Brunch is served from 10-4, Lunch is served buffet style with lemonade or tea from 11-4 Tuesday-Friday ($8.95~ call for menu items as they change daily) and dinner is available Tuesday-Thursday till 9 and Friday-Saturday till 10. Angel Oak is located near Johns Island, 3669 Savannah Highway Johns Island, SC 29455. Indoor and out door seating is available. For reservations call 843) 556-7525. Go to Facebook and “like” Angel Oak Restaurant to stay in the loop on what is happening at this fun new dining spot.

If you are not from Charleston, you might want to read more about the namesake of this restaurant, the Angel Oak Tree. It is thought to be the oldest living organism East of the Mississippi River.

The original Angel Oak on Johns Island, SC

I am looking forward to return visits and having a chance to taste more of Chef Kee’s creations. I will be sharing them with you then.

Grits in a Rice Cooker: perfection

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We arrived in Charleston to our new home a little over a week ago, though most of my household goods are still en route. I shipped a few things ahead so we would have some basic items. One of those things was my rice cooker. I wanted to make some grits and though that maybe I could do it in the rice cooker. I did it and it was so easy. No stirring and they stayed warm and ready to eat with the warming function on the rice cooker. Here is the way to do it. I of course recommend stone ground grits from the Low Country, or at the very least from the south. The grits I used were purchased at the Charleston Farmer’s Market from Steve Dowdney at The Colonial Charleston Kitchen. This recipe serves four but could easily be doubled and I am sure it would work equally well with polenta.

Ingredients:

1/2 cup stone ground grits
2 cups milk
1/2 cup water
1/2 stick of butter
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon course ground black pepper

Method:

Place all ingredients in rice cooker on porridge setting and forget about it till you are ready for dinner.

 

Vidalia Onions and the First Yellow Squash of the Season

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Low Country Squash with Pork Chops and Butter Leaf Salad

For me, it is a right of passage of sorts. I remember back over 30 years ago when as a young bride in the Low Country we had just moved in to a new house on the St. Helena Sound. my neighbor brought me over a little brown paper sack filled with yellow squash. She told me to go to the Piggly Wiggly and buy a “mess” of Vidalia Onions and explained this very simple recipe. Every spring I make this and think of the gift that Belle gave me. These two vegetables which appear at the same time every spring in the South will always be a perfect pairing in my mind. You can use any sweet onion to make this. Fortunately I had the amazing luck to come upon a shipment of Vidalias here in Hawaii. I grabbed them up and have been making all kinds of good things with them. But when I was at the farmer’s market and saw this yellow squash, I had to make this.

The recipe is embarrassingly simple and I am sure you will love the velvety texture that is the result.

Vidalia Onions and the First Yellow Squash of the Season

3 Vidalia or other sweet onions sliced

3 tender yellow squash sliced

3 cloves of garlic finely minced

Olive oil

Salt and Pepper to taste

Freshly grated Parmesan

In a generous skillet, heat the olive oil and put in the squash in an even layer. Brown and turn.

Add the onions and stir, sautee till the onions start to sweat.

Clean a hot spot in the center of the pan and add  the minced garlic. Stir again.

When the onions turn translucent and just start to brown, add the cheese and stir till it starts to melt.

 

Add salt and pepper.  Serve immediately.