June 30, 2009

Southern Summer Succotash

For those of us who grew up watching the Looney Tunes, we remember hearing Sylvester utter the words “Sufferin’ succotash!” after every failed attempt to capture Tweety. But what exactly is succotash?

Succotash is essentially a sauté of corn with other seasonal vegetables and has become a symbol of the bounty of summer crops, especially in areas of the South. High summer temperatures mean that it’s prime time for many delicious vegetables such as sweet corn, summer squash, peppers, fresh shell beans and tomatoes. Succotash has adopted regional forms depending on the crops in quantity in a particular area. Such a dish became very popular during the Great Depression due to its simplicity and versatility.

Succotash traces back to the Native Americans, who taught colonists how to prepare a dish consisting of corn, shell beans and other vegetables, which combined to form a complete protein source for sustenance. The use of lima beans, tomatoes, sweet peppers and pieces of cured meat became popular additions in the 1800s. Here is an authentic recipe from the Ladies’ Aid Society of the First Presbyterian Church in Ohio. The recipe was published in 1894 and is titled “New England Succotash.”

Take two quarts shelled Lima beans (green), one dozen ears of corn (cut off cob), and one pound pickled pork. Cover pork with water, and parboil it; add beans, cook until they burst; then add corn, two tablespoonfuls sugar, butter the size of a walnut, and pepper to taste. After corn is added, watch carefully to keep from scorching.

I think that one of the best ways to showcase fresh summer vegetables, at the height of their season, is to saute them all together into a succotash. Given the dish’s popularity in the South, I wanted to honor tradition and attempt to make a true succotash dish, accented with bacon and topped lightly with butter, just enough to make the vegetable dish a satisfying, complete meal. I also provide my recipe for buttermilk biscuits because after all, all comfort-style meals should be accompanied with warm, home-baked flaky biscuits.

Summer Succotash

Serves 4.

Really, any summer vegetable or fresh shell bean would work in this versatile dish. I used baby pattypan squash and small gypsy peppers, which are delicious and make for a pretty presentation. Fresh basil leaves are a nice accompaniment, but feel free to experiment with other summer herbs.

2 thick slices of good-quality bacon

1 small onion, finely chopped

1 garlic clove, minced

½ pound summer squash, diced or sliced into rounds

2 cups fresh or frozen fava beans, lima beans or edamame (if fresh, blanch until just tender, 5 minutes)

½ cup diced red or yellow peppers

3 ears fresh corn, shucked and kernels cut off

½ pint cherry tomatoes, halved

1 Tbsp unsalted butter

Salt and freshly ground pepper

¼ cup basil leaves, thinly sliced

1. Heat a large skillet over medium heat and cook bacon until crisp, about 8 minutes. Drain on paper towels, then finely chop. Drain off all but 1 teaspoon of the bacon fat from the skillet.

2.Return the skillet over medium heat. Add onion and cook until softened, stirring occasionally. Add garlic and cook 1 minute. Add summer squash, beans and peppers; cook, stirring gently, until the vegetables are just tender. Add corn and cherry tomatoes; cook 2-3 minutes longer.

3. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Stir in the butter and basil. Top with reserved bacon. Serve immediately with warm buttermilk biscuits.

Buttermilk Biscuits

Makes about 4 biscuits.

1 1/2 cups white whole-wheat flour or whole-wheat pastry flour

1/2 cup all-purpose flour

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

4 tablespoons cold butter, cut into small pieces

1 cup low-fat buttermilk

1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Lightly grease a baking sheet and set aside.

2. Combine flours, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a large bowl. Using your fingertips or two knives, cut butter into dry ingredients until mixture looks like coarse meal.

3. Make a well in the center and gradually pour in buttermilk, stirring with a wooden spoon until just combined.

4. Transfer dough to a floured surface and sprinkle with a little flour. Lightly knead, then pat into a circle about 3/4 inch thick. Cut into 2-inch rounds (or another shape) and transfer to prepared baking sheet. Gather any dough scraps and cut more rounds.

5. Bake the biscuits for 14 to 16 minutes, or until golden brown.

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