Jennifer Hill Booker
"Field Peas to Foie Gras: Southern Recipes with a French Accent" and Your Resident Gourmet, Atlanta
Recipe photo and food styling by Judy Kim.
Jennifer Hill Booker knows a thing or two about soul food. As a chef, culinary instructor, and cookbook author, the JBF Chefs Boot Camp alum is driven to highlight the rich history of this cherished cuisine, especially “who cooked it, who’s currently cooking it, and all of the stereotypes in between.” Inspired by that mission, Booker recently organized the Cast Iron Chronicles, a collaborative dinner series which finished its run with a stop at the Beard House, where she served up this delectable pimento cheese spoonbread.
Spoonbread is one of the essential dishes that help to form the foundation of American cuisine. Originated by Native Americans and later adopted by black slaves, this beloved mainstay is all about turning a few humble pantry staples into something worth celebrating. It’s a classic for a reason, and serves as a versatile base for delicious experimentation.
Booker starts by tossing a hefty portion of extra-sharp cheddar and some diced pimentos into a thick cornmeal batter. Then, she folds in softly whipped egg whites to aerate the dough and achieve a supple, soufflé-like consistency. Topped with even more cheese and baked to golden-brown perfection, this scrumptious starch is the perfect addition to your summertime soul food soirée.
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup stone-ground white or yellow cornmeal
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 1/3 cups whole milk
1 1/4 cups shredded extra-sharp cheddar cheese, divided
8 ounces diced pimiento peppers, drained
2 large eggs, yolks and whites separated
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 green onions, chopped
Preheat oven to 350°F.
Grease an 8 x 8 x 2-inch baking dish with the softened butter and line with parchment paper. Set aside.
In a large saucepan set over medium heat, combine cornmeal, flour, sugar, salt, black pepper, and cayenne. Whisk in the milk; bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Reduce heat to medium-low and cook until very thick, about 10 minutes, stirring constantly. Remove from heat and using a rubber spatula, fold in 1 cup cheese and the pimiento peppers; stir until cheese is melted.
Place the separated egg yolks in a small bowl. Whisking quickly, add one egg yolk into the hot cornmeal mixture. After completely combined, whisk in second egg yolk: set aside
In a medium bowl, whisk the egg whites and baking powder, or beat on high speed with an electric mixer, until soft peaks form, about 3 minutes. Using a large rubber spatula, gently fold the egg whites into the cornmeal mixture. Spoon the mixture into the buttered baking dish and top with the remaining cheese. Place on the middle rack of your oven and bake until puffy and golden brown, 30 to 40 minutes.
Remove from the oven to cool. Garnish with the chopped green onions. Serve warm or at room temperature.