During fall — and particularly at Thanksgiving — we often find ourselves searching for just the perfect side dish. We want recipes that will be at home next to a roasted chicken or turkey, or maybe a beef roast or ham. We want recipes that are crowd-pleasers, recipes that shimmer with the glow of comfort food. We want side dishes that people inch toward while contemplating second helpings.
This is the side dish you are looking for.
I knew I wanted something corn-based, and then got a bit torn between spoonbread and corn pudding. Both dishes are popular in the South and appear regularly on holiday dinner tables. Basically, spoonbread is cornbread that is soft enough to eat with a spoon and is made from a cornmeal base. Corn pudding is more of an egg- and dairy-based pudding with corn kernels studded throughout.
I couldn't decide. So I combined both thoughts into one dish. Let's just say the "Should I have seconds?" question was answered with a definitive "Yes!" Purists from the South might cock an eyebrow at me. But I invite them to give it a shot (and acknowledge cheerfully that strict culinary authenticity is not my strongest suit).
Whipping the egg whites is an extra step, but one that ensures the resulting dish will be light and fluffy. You do want to serve this dish warm from the oven so that it holds its slightly souffle-like texture. Having said that, a scoop or two reheated in the microwave the next day — and paired with a green salad tossed with vinaigrette — is one of the finer lunches I can imagine.
Spoonbread corn pudding
Start to finish: 55 minutes (20 minutes active)
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, plus extra
3 1/4 cups whole milk, divided
2 teaspoons sugar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup cornmeal
2 cups corn kernels (from 3 to 4 ears of corn or frozen kernels)
Large pinch cayenne pepper
4 large eggs, separated and at room temperature
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
Heat oven to 400 F. Butter a shallow 1 1/2- or 2-quart baking dish.
In a medium saucepan over medium-high heat, combine the butter, 3 cups of the milk, the sugar and salt. Bring to a simmer. When the butter has melted, reduce the heat to medium-low. Whisking constantly, add the cornmeal in a slow, steady drizzle. Whisk in the corn kernels and cayenne and continue whisking for another 4 or 5 minutes, or until the mixture is thick. Remove from the heat and transfer the mixture to a large bowl. Set aside.
In a small bowl, whisk together the egg yolks and remaining 1/4 cup of milk. Set aside.
In a medium bowl, use an electric mixer to beat the egg whites and cream of tartar until stiff peaks form.
Add about 1/2 cup of the cornmeal mixture to the bowl with the egg yolks and stir quickly to combine. Turn the yolk mixture into the bowl with the rest of the cornmeal mixture and ?whisk to combine. Fold about 1/3 of the egg white mixture into the cornmeal mixture, which will lighten the batter, then gently fold in the rest of the egg whites so that they are almost incorporated. You will see a white streak or two, which is fine.
Transfer the batter to the prepared baking dish and bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until the top is browned and puffy. When you shake the pan the spoonbread should jiggle slightly, though not so much that it looks liquidy in the middle. Remove and cool slightly on a wire rack. Serve warm.
Nutrition information per serving: 230 calories; 110 calories from fat (48 percent of total calories); 12 g fat (6 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 135 mg cholesterol; 320 mg sodium; 24 g carbohydrate; 2 g fiber; 7 g sugar; 8 g protein.
Katie Workman has written two cookbooks focused on easy, family-friendly cooking, "Dinner Solved!" and "The Mom 100 Cookbook." She blogs at http://www.themom100.com/