For Everything, there was a (Southern) Season

In November of last year, it was announced that Southern Season, a Chapel Hill institution since 1975, and friend to generations of lovers of food would be closing.  It’s been a long slow demise which began with the 2011 sale of the titan to TC Capital Fund.

But in its heyday, it was a fairyland for anyone fascinated by all things.  It was a juggernaut; almost a culinary amusement park.

When The Kid was in elementary school, I worked at the Waldenbooks at University Mall for a few months.  Whenever I could, I’d run down to Southern Season, at the far end, and pick up lunch.

In the salad bar was a pasta salad that I loved, I bugged the chef, and he finally told me the secret was water, it becomes a dressing that somehow lightly coats the pasta with flavor.

Artichokes…nooooooooo!

When The Kid was in high school, and Petey worked weekend nights at Duke, we would make a Saturday supper pasta that contained many ingredients that the absent Petey loathed, or were his personal kryptonite.

When we had our infrequent E-ticket adventures at University Mall, we always stocked up with plenty of pappardelle for our feast at Southern Season.

Thanks for the memories, old friend, and thanks for your time.

Contact debbie at dm@bullcity.mom.

Walden Books Pasta Salad

1 pound pasta rotelle, bow tie, or cavatapi, cooked according to directions, then drained and cooled—do not rinse)

2 cups frozen peas, thawed

Salt & pepper

Dressing

1 ½ cup mayonnaise

2 tablespoons malt vinegar

Hottest tap water (have a ½ cup ready, but you won’t need it all)

1 cup Cherubs tomatoes sliced in half

1 bunch green onions, sliced thin

Salt & pepper

Whisk together mayo and vinegar.

A teaspoon at a time, whisk in water until the dressing is just a little thicker than bottled creamy salad dressing.  Stir in tomatoes and green onions.  Refrigerate for at least an hour, but no more than two.

Assembly

30 minutes before service: In large bowl, stir together pasta, peas, and dressing.  Start with a little dressing and continue adding until it is just a little too wet, it will tighten up, and as it does, coat the pasta.

*Salad pictured is a variation on the recipe.

Cover loosely with plastic wrap and sit in a cool corner of the kitchen for 30 minutes before service.

Southern Season Krypto-night

1-approximately 16-ounce package of parpappardelle pasta

3 tablespoons salt

3 thick slices of pancetta

1-pound mushrooms, cleaned and sliced uniformly

½ teaspoon dry thyme

1 bag or box frozen artichokes, thawed and halved

Many cloves of garlic, at least 8

1 cup chicken stock

½ cup Parmesan cheese, plus more for service

1 large lemon, zested and juiced

Salt & pepper

Pasta water

Put a large pot of water on for the pasta.

In a large skillet, cook pancetta or bacon until it is completely rendered and crispy, remove from pan and set aside on paper towels.

Put mushrooms and artichokes in 1 tablespoon of the reserved fat.  Lower to medium-low, cover and cook for 5-7 minutes to facilitate the vegetables to release their liquid. 

Uncover and turn up to medium, and cook, stirring frequently, until the veg has lightly browned.

Add garlic and lemon zest, cook just until the garlic starts thinking about browning.

With a slotted spoon or tongs, transfer pasta to skillet, stirring in a spoonful of pasta water at a time until everything’s coated, but not saucy at all.

Take off heat, add lemon juice and stir in peas.  Serve in large shallow bowls with a healthy snow shower of Parm.

Makes 4-6 very hearty servings.   

A Kernel of Truth

Originally published in the Herald-Sun 12/19/2012.

At our house, we are huge fans of carby comfort food.

We have a repertoire of dishes, everything from blue box mac, to an invented dish we call a ‘pasta toss’ (pasta, usually with sautéed veg and lots of lemon and garlic).

When Petey is saving lives at Duke, my baby and I dine alone.  On those nights we love nothing better than to get into our jimmies, and hop onto the couch with a couple of plates of steamy noodle goodness.  Then we dine, while watching a cinematic classic like, “Super Lobster Versus Mega Kitten”.

One night, prowling the Food Network website, I came upon a picture of a pasta dish with corn and green onions.

It looked fresh and light, yet luxurious.  Crazy gorgeous.  It made my stomach rumble.

I copy/pasted the illustration, and emailed it to The Kid, who was ensconced upstairs in the fortress of solitude, with various beeping and blinking devices.

It was given a thumb’s up.  We decided to create our own corn and pasta dish.

We immediately started making plans.

For pasta, we decided on parpadelle.  It’s as long as spaghetti, but as wide as an egg noodle.  The good stuff is as silky as a French nightgown.  It’s eggy and yummy.

For flavoring and fat in which to saute, we decided to go with pancetta.  It’s Italian.  They make it with pork belly, which also makes our American bacon.  It’s cured and rolled. But unlike bacon, which is smoked, pancetta is never smoked, but flavored with peppercorns and other herbs and spices, like rosemary and juniper berries.

Although I am an onion lover, my child is not, so instead of green onions for our dish, we would stir in a handful of fresh chopped parsley.  This would give us both color and fresh bright flavor.

As for our star of the show, corn, a trip to the farmers’ market presented us with a myriad of choices.  We settled on some beautiful sweet juicy ears still in their pale green silky robes.

Some stuff about fresh corn:

As soon as the ear leaves the stalk, the sugars in those sweet kernels start converting to starch.  In two days, about 80% of the sugar has mutated.  So, only buy fresh corn on the day you will use it.  And don’t buy it if it’s been languishing at the grocery store for days. The way to get the tastiest corn is to get freshly picked.

Otherwise, buy frozen.

Don’t be ashamed to be seen in the freezer aisle.  IQF, or individually quick frozen vegetables is the way most veg are prepared these days.  They’re cleaned and frozen as quickly as possible, sometimes within minutes, in buildings just feet from the fields in which they grew.  I promise they will be fresher than the sad, middle-aged specimens declining in your supermarket veggy department.

To shuck corn, quicker and cleaner; drop each ear into boiling water for a count of fifteen.  This will make the silk practically jump off the corn.  To completely eliminate the mess and bother, make the kids do it–outside.

To get the kernels off the cob, just hold the cob upright on a cutting board, and cut down with a sharp knife, turn it, and repeat.  After kernels are removed, scrape down the cob with the back of your knife, to get the juice.

Some folks swear by resting the cob on the opening of an upright bundt pan.  The theory is all the stuff goes only into the pan.  It never works for me.  It is a messy job, no getting around it.  I suggest a drop cloth, and a shower after.

Once we had our components, we set about making our newest pasta toss.  It was a blast conspiring together to create this new recipe.

Happily, all the fevered intrigue paid off.  It’s the perfect, yummy plate to devour while watching “Grizzlygator versus Colossal Hedgehog 2”.  This time I hear it’s personal.

Summer Corn & Parpadelle

Serves four as a side dish, or two as a main.

1 lb parpadelle

¼ lb thick sliced pancetta, cut into cubes

2 cloves garlic, peeled, and smashed, or thickly sliced

6 ears fresh corn, cut from cob (or 12-16 ounces frozen shoe peg, if fresh is not available)

1 shallot, diced

1/3 cup white wine

1 cup chicken stock

½ cup grated parmesan cheese

2 T butter

1/3 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

Salt and pepper

Set a very large pot with heavily salted water on to boil.  When it boils, add pasta and cook ‘til al dente. 

In a large heavy skillet, cook pancetta until completely browned on medium-low, and remove from pan. Turn up to medium, and put garlic in.  Cook until lightly golden and fragrant.  Remove and discard. 

Put shallots into skillet, and cook until softened and lightly translucent.  Add corn with juice.  Cook until the liquid is almost gone, and add wine, and stir to coat everything.  When wine has evaporated, add chicken stock, and turn up to medium-high. 

Let it bubble away to thicken, while paprpadelle is cooking.  When the consistency is right, turn off heat, and stir in cheese and butter (called mounting).

When the noodles are done, don’t strain them, remove from water with tongs or a large slotted spoon, and add directly to sauce.  Add parsley, and toss everything together.  If the sauce is too stiff, add a little pasta water to thin it.

Check for seasoning, plate, scatter top with pancetta bits, and serve. 

The Kid called this past weekend, and told me next week’ll be finals for food and wine compatibility class.  The directive is a dish that pairs well with a chardonnay.

Guess what recipe my child is choosing to make for the exam?

Thanks for your time.