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On Cooking Southern: Knock the Stuffing out of Hurricane Season with Flavor-Crammed Garden Goodies

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SOUTHERNISM OF THE WEEK
Come hell or high water: An oblique Biblical reference to The Great Flood, the expression is commonly used to imply that something’s gonna happen, no matter what. … more emphatically proactive than the related expression, Lord willing and the creek don’t rise, which means that something will occur unless there’s outside interference (by floodwaters or the Creek Nation, depending on the speaker’s colloquial history). Also related to the expression Caught between Hell and high water, meaning that one is screwed.


This week is the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, the storm that reminded us all about Hell AND high water.

It’s important to remember this anniversary at a time when wildfires are raging through the western states and a 2015-season hurricane is bearing down on Florida.

Photo courtesy of MDOT at www.GoMDOT.com/hurricanes
Photo courtesy of MDOT at www.GoMDOT.com/hurricanes

The worlds of Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi (a.k.a. “Landmass”) were knocked off their axes during that storm from Hell in 2005. The folks who survived are scarred and still shoveling. Many of them were displaced to locales as far away as the Midwest and Southwest, and never returned home because home was no longer there.

Urban and rural landmarks, along with lynchpin infrastructures such as I-90 and I-10 running from Biloxi to New Orleans, will never be the same. But at least the highways exist once more, thanks to the monumental efforts of a cadre of volunteers and pros from across the nation. Even after 10 years, much work remains to be done.

The amazing thing about 2005 is that it was an entire season of terrible horrible very bad storms. It was the most active Atlantic hurricane season in recorded history, reaping 3,913 known deaths, and damage exceeding $159 billion.

Twenty-eight tropical and subtropical storms stirred up the Atlantic, Gulf and Caribbean during that extraordinary June 1-November 30th hurricane season. Whipping across the Caribbean islands, they raged from Florida to Texas and down into Central America in a seemingly never-ending succession.

Fifteen of those storms amped up to hurricane status. Seven of them were rated Category 3 or higher, including one rated at Category 4 and four rated at Category 5, the highest level.

Photo courtesy of MDOT as seen www.GoMDOT.com/hurricanes
Photo courtesy of MDOT as seen www.GoMDOT.com/hurricanes

Ask anyone who survived the worst of the worst, and they’ll cite the names: Dennis (4), Emily, Katrina, Rita and Wilma (5). The storms were so bad that the weather service has retired those storm names (along with Stan, which hit Guatemala). They joined the retired-name roster that includes other terrible storms in our history such as Inez, Hazel, Betsey, Camille, Andrew and Hugo.

The backwash from the 2005 storms affected the entire nation. Governmental land and waterway engineering practices, federal and state-level emergency policies, and alleged political corruption and insurance insufficiency are still working their way through courts and public censure.

All the political and legal jockeying in the world can’t restore the lives, possessions, and communities that were lost due to the hurricane season from Hell. Tomes have been written about how the Southern landscape was torn apart, her people displaced and lives forever changed.

So what else is new?

We can always count on a new catastrophe lurking around the corner. Manmade or natural; it’s part of life.

But Southerners have got grit. Our coastal folks have got true grit. We may get the stuffing knocked out of us from time to time, but we will survive.


NOW’S THE TIME TO STUFF SOME STUFF
It’s the end of summer, the inevitable time when the tomatoes, squash and peppers are running amok. That means it’s time to step out of our culinary comfort zone and make the meals more interesting. It’s time to stuff those suckers with something savory.

The stuffing recipes cited in this week’s column work equally well with other delivery platforms.

For instance, the Italian Sausage stuffing is divine when grilled in portabella mushrooms, or baked in a flakey piecrust. The Orzo and Spinach stuffing makes a fabulous stand-alone side dish, or use it as a base for grilled pork loin or flank steak. The bell pepper beef stuffing is delicious as a topping for steamed rice.

ORZO & SPINACH STUFFED TOMATOES

orzo-stuffedtomatoes-DSCN1340

6 large firm tomatoes

2-3 T extra light olive oil

1 medium red onion, chopped fine

2 large cloves of garlic, minced

1-1/2 c orzo pasta

14.5-oz can chicken broth

14.5-oz can diced Italian style tomatoes

1 tsp salt

1/2 tsp black pepper

3/4 c white wine

2+ c fresh rinsed and drained baby spinach (a 5-oz package)

1-1/2 c fresh grated Parmesan cheese, 1/4 c reserved

1 to 1-1/2 c grated French loaf bread, 1/4 c reserved

Grated fresh mozzarella cheese for topping

Preheat oven to 350˚F. Cut off cap end of the tomatoes and scoop out pulp, retaining at least a half-inch of pulp inside the skin so the tomatoes will hold their shape. Save the extracted pulp for another use. Place the tomatoes in an oiled baking dish.

Sweat the onions and garlic in hot olive oil in a large pot until translucent. Stir in the can of tomatoes and chicken broth and bring to a boil. Add the orzo and simmer about 10 minutes. Add seasonings and white wine. Simmer another 10 minutes, stirring occasionally until orzo fluffs and mixture reduces. Add the spinach, stir to mix, and cover for 10 minutes. Remove lid and stir wilted spinach thoroughly into mixture. Continue simmering and stirring until liquid has reduced further.

While simmering, combine all but reserved Parmesan and grated breadcrumbs. Remove pot from heat and stir in the bread and cheese mixture. Allow to rest for about 10 minutes for mixture to set up. Use a spoon to stuff mixture into the tomatoes. Layer sprinkles of reserved Parmesan and crumbs on top. Add a bit of fresh mozzarella on top of crumbs and bake for about 30 minutes. Loosely cover with tented foil if needed to prevent burning.

MUSHROOM-SAUSAGE STUFFED PATTYPAN SQUASH
This stuffing is so simple and flavorful, you will want to make it regularly. Pattypans are those intriguing, flying-saucer shaped white squash. They are fabulous when sliced, breaded and fried, or sliced and baked with seasonings such as Cavender’s.

Italiansausagestuffedpittypans-DSCN1319

6-12 pattypan squash

16 oz mild Italian sausage

2 c chopped fresh mushrooms

2 medium sweet onions (about 2 c)

1 tsp salt

1/4 tsp pepper

1 stick unsalted butter

16 oz pkg fresh baby spinach

1/2 c Italian-seasoned breadcrumbs

Fresh grated mozzarella, plus 6 tsp reserved for garnish

6 tomatoes

1 c grated Italian or French loaf bread

Fresh basil leaves for garnish

Preheat oven to 350˚F. Place squash in a pot of water and bring to a boil for 4 minutes. Remove from heat and scoop out the squash. Allow to cool; cut off tops and scoop out seeded pulp.

Melt butter in a medium skillet. Add chopped onions and sweat them until they begin to turn transparent. Break up the sausage into the skillet and move it around to brown thoroughly. Cover for about 3 minutes and stir again. Add the mushrooms, stir and cover for 5 minutes. Remove cover and fold in the spinach. Cover again until spinach has wilted. Remove cover and stir to blend.

Remove skillet from heat and drain off all the liquid. Mix in the breadcrumbs. Add the mozzarella. Stuff into the prepped squash and place in a baking dish (I prefer a glass pan). Sprinkle mozzarella over the tops. Add about 1/8-inch of water to prevent burning and sticking. Loosely tent with foil and bake about 30 minutes before serving.

RICE & BEEF STUFFED BELL PEPPERS
I prefer to make my pepper stuffing without rice and serve the mixture OVER steamed rice. Family members who refuse to eat a cooked bell pepper still love the stuffing. NOTE: Red and orange bell peppers are over-ripened, and thus are sweeter than the green ones.

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4 to 6 plump green or red bell peppers

½ stick (4 T) butter or 4 T extra light olive oil

2 c diced sweet onions

1 clove garlic, minced

16 oz ground beef

1-1/2 tsp salt

1/2 tsp pepper

1 T Italian seasoning

Splash of Worcestershire Sauce

1/2 c diced bell pepper, optional

2 T tomato paste

6 oz diced tomatoes

1/2 c tomato sauce

3 T sugar

1 T minced parsley

1/4 c Italian-seasoned breadcrumbs

1 to 2 c steamed basmati rice

Grated Colby & Monterrey Jack cheese

Tomato sauce or jarred spaghetti sauce

Select firm peppers that will stand upright. Cut off tops of peppers and carefully remove seeds and excess pulp, leaving exteriors intact. Bring a pot of water to a boil and carefully add the peppers, facedown. Cover and simmer for 5 minutes (time it). Remove from heat and plunge peppers into ice water to stop the cooking process. Drain on a rack, cut-side down.

Heat oil or butter in a large skillet and sweat the onions and garlic until translucent. Crumble and add the ground beef, salt and pepper, stirring to mix. Brown evenly and add the optional bell pepper. Cover and simmer for about 2 minutes.

Remove cover and stir in the tomato paste, diced tomatoes, tomato sauce, Worcestershire and Italian seasoning. Simmer until blended and liquid reduces to a thick paste. Stir in sugar and parsley and simmer briefly before removing from heat. Mix in the seasoned breadcrumbs and steamed rice.

Preheat oven to 350˚F. Ladle 1-1/2 to 2 cups of tomato sauce or spaghetti sauce into a glass baking dish or greased metal pan. Stuff mixture into blanched peppers and place stuffed peppers on the sauce-lined dish. Top each pepper with a sprinkle of cheese and a dollop of sauce.

Bake on center rack for 30-40 minutes, until mixture bubbles and peppers are soft.


Laurie Triplette is a writer, historian and accredited appraiser of fine arts, dedicated to preserving Southern culture and foodways. Author of the award-winning community family cookbook GIMME SOME SUGAR, DARLIN’, and editor of ZEBRA TALES (Tailgating Recipes from the Ladies of the NFLRA), Triplette is a member of the Association of Food Journalists, Southern Foodways Alliance and the Southern Food and Beverage Museum. Check out the GIMME SOME SUGAR, DARLIN’ website and follow Laurie’s food adventures on Facebook and Twitter.

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