Cheesy Parmesan Spoon Bread

By: Nealey Dozier

One of the things I love most about Southern food is that it draws flavor inspiration from cultures all around the world, yet still maintains a unique identity of its own. It truly is a melting pot of tastes—hot, sticky, spicy and sweet—all boxed up in one.

Take spoon bread for example, a quintessential down-home dish. Its name may not turn any heads (or open any mouths), but one bite is enough to convert even the biggest of skeptics. Spoon bread, in fact, has a pretty distinguished pedigree if you ask me. It’s part French soufflé, part English Yorkshire pudding, but once you add the cornmeal, it’s all Southern.

If you still can’t wrap your head around this old-fashioned recipe, just imagine a rich, custardy version of cornbread worthy of scooping up with a spoon. Or better yet, picture the lightest, fluffiest grits casserole you’ve ever had. I mean, what's not to like?

There are a number of different cooking techniques floating around, some more complex than others, but after sampling more than a few, I kept coming back to this one. Spoon bread really is an example of Southern food at its finest—simple yet satisfying to the soul. It comes together with nothing fancy, just a few pantry ingredients all cooks have on hand. I did, however, throw in a handful of fresh Parmesan for good measure. Non-traditional, yes, but I don’t think I’ll hear too many complaints.

This cheesy (and easy) side dish would make the perfect addition to any Christmas dinner, no matter where in this world you live. I can’t think of anything better to go with my family’s roasted beef tenderloin, but I'm pretty sure it would taste just as good with a platter of piping hot fried chicken, too. Either way you serve it, count me in!

Parmesan Spoon Bread

Active time: 20 minutes

Total time: 55 minutes

Yields: 6-8
1 cup fine stone-ground yellow cornmeal*
1 1/2 cups whole or 2% milk
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
3/4 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese
1 teaspoon kosher salt
4 large eggs, lightly beaten
2 teaspoons baking powder (aluminum-free if possible)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter the bottom and sides of a medium, round casserole dish.

In a heavy saucepan, bring the milk and cream to a gentle boil over medium heat. Slowly stir in the cornmeal. Continue to whisk vigorously (to prevent the cornmeal from clumping) until the mixture has thickened, about 2 - 4 minutes. Turn off the heat and stir in the butter, Parmesan cheese and salt. (If the mixture is very hot, allow to cool off for a few minutes.)

Whisk the beaten eggs and baking powder into the cornmeal mixture. Beat with an electric mixer on medium-high speed until completely blended and smooth, 2-3 minutes.

Pour the batter into the prepared baking dish. Bake until puffed and golden, about 35 minutes. Serve with lots of butter. (The spoon bread will collapse quickly as with most soufflés, but will still taste perfectly delicious.)

*If you can't find finely-ground cornmeal, process regular cornmeal in a blender for a few minutes until desired texture is reached. The finer grain yields a smoother spoon bread.

Nealey moved from Alabama to the West Coast to follow her dreams, only to realize once there how much she missed good ol’ country cooking.  So she took to the kitchen and began re-creating the dishes of her past, but this time without any help from a can. What started out as a hobby turned into an obsession, so she quit her day job to pursue cooking, and eating, fulltime. Dixie Caviar is where you can follow her pursuits of all things Southern.

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