Since the beginning of time, food has been an essential part of family life and, on a larger scale, the community. As the kitchen is often described as the heart of the house- the recipes and food made within move outward- connecting people to their neighborhood and even their region. A community cookbook exemplifies that connection with a collection of recipes from an array of contributors, all bound together by a sense of place.
Community cookbooks have graced the kitchens of every grandmother and mother in the South for decades. The Southern Foodways Alliance pays the ultimate tribute to said books in its Community Cookbook, and does a mighty fine job of compiling the prized recipes of chefs, artisans, farmers, writers, and cuisine-fiends from our beloved region. The beautiful publication is presented complete with metal binding rings.
Like in most community cookbooks, the author of each recipe shares the story behind the dish. The “author” of this week’s recipe is Chef Frank Stitt, a friend of mine, known by many in the Southern culinary community and around the world. As owner of Highlands Bar and Grill and Bottega Restaurant and Café in Birmingham, Frank often infuses traditional Southern cuisine with French and Italian flavors; he also supports local farms and sustainable agriculture. We were lucky enough to be able to hold a workshop at his Bottega Café a few years back.
In honor of community, we at Alabama Chanin have decided to sit and eat together in a weekly Studio Lunch. This lunch allows us to come together, try out new recipes from some of our favorite cookbooks, and share our own recipes and stories with one another.
This week, Frank’s Collards (found on page 77 of the cookbook) were included in our Studio lunch spread, along with my Buttermilk Biscuits – also featured in the SFA Community Cookbook (on page 105). Frank’s suave French style shines through in the au gratin, combined with rough-and-tumble collard greens and white beans for heft.
The biscuits were cut in heart shapes for Valentine’s Day (of course).
Food + Community makes for a delicious lunch.
COLLARD GREEN AND WHITE BEAN GRATIN by Frank Stitt
1 pound collard greens, stems and tough ribs removed
5 garlic cloves, divided, 1 crushed and 4 chopped
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, divided
1 medium onion, chopped
1 small red bell pepper, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
3 cups cooked white beans, 1/2 cup cooking liquid reserved
1/2 cup diced or chopped cooked ham-hock meat, sausage, chorizo, or bacon
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, divided
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh rosemary leaves
Kosher salt and ground black pepper
1/4 cup medium-coarse fresh bread crumbs
In a large pot, cover the collards with salted water, then heat and boil until tender, about 30 minutes. Drain well and chop into small pieces. Set aside.
Preheat oven to 475F. Vigorously rub the inside of a 10- or 12- inch gratin dish with the crushed garlic. Discard the crushed garlic and set the dish aside.
Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in a large sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add the onion and bell pepper and cook, stirring often, until tender, about 10 minutes. Add the chopped garlic and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Add the collard greens, stir to coat and cook for 1 minute. Transfer into a large bowl.
Stir in the beans, meat, 2 tablespoon of the Parmigiano-Reggiano, 1 tablespoon of the oil, and rosemary. Season with salt and pepper. Add enough of the reserved bean cooking liquid to moisten, then spread the mixture in the prepared dish. Top with the bread crumbs and the remaining Parmigiano-Reggiano. Drizzle with the remaining oil.
Cover the dish with aluminum foil and bake until the filling is hot and bubbly, 30 to 35 minutes. Remove the foil and bake until the top of the gratin is golden and crusty, about another 10 minutes. Serve hot.
The Southern Foodways Alliance Community Cookbook, Edited by Sara Roahen & John T. Edge
*A nice Valentine’s set up: Collard Green and White Bean Gratin baked in Heath Ceramics Covered Serving + served in Heath bowl. Biscuits plated on Heath serving lid that doubles as a platter and using my mended tea towels.