Cornbread, creamy dressing riffs on panzanella

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My Asian-Latin-Southern-fusion contribution to a school potluck wasn’t consumed in the quantity I anticipated. But that left plenty of the succotash-esquites hybrid, dressed with a sweet chili-sauce vinaigrette, for the next night’s dinner.

Colorful and chock-full of garden vegetables, the salad asked for only a piece roasted of meat and maybe some starch to make a complete meal. But a steamed whole grain didn’t really rise to prominence, and I didn’t fancy potatoes. Cornbread emerged as a likely companion to play up the salad’s resemblance to that Southern bean-and-corn staple, succotash. And I could whip up a batch in less time than it took a pan of chicken drumsticks to roast.

Hungry as I was for butter- and honey-drenched cornbread hot from the oven, my sons all but disdained their portions. That left half a pan of cornbread for the next day’s breakfast and lunch and a second attempt at the boys’ dinnertime.

Had I cozied it up to few strips of bacon and given the kids a creamy dipping sauce, cornbread might have received a warmer welcome. And this recipe, courtesy of Tribune News Service, would have been right up my husband’s alley, composed into a single, hearty salad. A riff on Italy’s quintessential panzanella this dish likewise is something more than the sum of its parts.

Tribune News Service photo

Cornbread Panzanella With Spicy Cilantro-Ranch Dressing

2 garlic cloves, peeled and roughly chopped

3/4 cup buttermilk

3 tablespoons lime juice

3/4 cup mayonnaise

2 tablespoons chopped chives

3/4 cup chopped cilantro, divided

3 to 4 dashes hot sauce

4 grinds black pepper, plus more to taste

1/2 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste

2 small ripe tomatoes or 1 medium ripe tomato, cut into 1/2-inch cubes

1/2 cup thinly sliced red onion

1 jalapeno, seeds and membranes removed, finely chopped

2 ears corn, shucked

1 (8.5-ounce) box cornbread mix, prepared and cut into 1/2-inch cubes, or 5 to 6 cups 1/2-inch-cubed leftover cornbread

5 pieces cooked bacon, crumbled

In a food processor bowl, combine the garlic, buttermilk, lime juice, mayonnaise, chives, 1/2 cup of the cilantro and the hot sauce; process to a smooth consistency. Taste and add additional salt and pepper if needed. Let dressing sit in refrigerator for at least 15 minutes.

In a salad bowl, mix the tomato, onion and jalapeno. Add a tablespoon of spicy cilantro dressing to vegetables; mix. Let vegetables sit at room temperature for 15 minutes.

Grill the corn on a hot grill for 10 to 15 minutes until corn is charred all over. Let corn cool, then slice corn off cob and add to vegetables.

Carefully fold the cornbread into vegetables (mixture will be crumbly). Add 1/4 cup dressing until incorporated. Add additional dressing if needed until salad is slightly moist but cornbread is not drenched. Fold in the bacon crumbles and remaining cilantro. Taste and adjust seasonings if needed. Let salad sit for 15 minutes before serving.

Makes 6 to 8 servings.

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