Cornbread crumbs piled high atop Cabbage Squash Cornbread Casserole. Cornbread freezes well so make a couple skillets at a time. Wonderful stuff.
My passion for cornbread goes way back. I hold an early memory of talking with my grandmother Johnye in Carlsbad, NM. We were discussing whether we were a yellow or a white cornmeal family. Johnye said we’re white cornmeal. We were probably unusual for the yellow-skewed cornmeal Southwest and at the time I didn’t really get what she meant, but I never forgot this conversation with her.
Twenty-some years ago, when I moved to Nashville and worked in the Martha White Test kitchen developing recipes for the iconic Southern flour and cornmeal brand, I cooked a lot of cornmeal. I wondered about the yellow and white styles, and how they differed. Turns out, the bottom line is it’s just color, a difference in geography, not in goodness. We all like what we know and that’s traditionally what’s around us. In America the South tends to go white, while the rest of the country skews yellow, except feisty little Rhode Island, which prefers white.
Almost 20 years ago Martha White and Lodge Cast Iron of South Pittsburg, TN, another famous Tennessee brand, teamed up to host the popular National Cornbread Cook-Off, part of the National Cornbread Festival in South Pittsburg. The festival is a fun family trip to a beautiful small town on the banks of the Tennessee river, not far from Chattanooga.
During the years I worked the festival’s Cook-Off I often wondered how a contestant decided on white or yellow cornmeal. No matter who chose what style, the creative recipes in the contest each year are a testament to the versatility of cornmeal. Check them out on the Martha White website.
As regional southern cuisines continue upward on the celebrity track, I am thrilled to see that cornbread, sustainer of generations of rural southerners (and swamp Yankees, too), is, at last, enjoying 15 minutes of fame. This time is right because so many home cooks today struggle with a good skillet of cornbread, yellow or white. It’s why we teach our Cornbread Lab at the Nashville Farmers’ Market. For a little refresher course, here’s the Cheater Chef Cornbread Lab Manual.
Just looking over the Cheater Chef website, I see we’ve devoted quite a bit of space to cornbread–from dressings to desserts. Some of our favorites are these:
Skillet Cornbread, Collard Cornbread Pudding, Cornbread Waffles, Cornbread Dressing, Cornbread Crepes, Cornbread Barrel Bungs, Cornbread Clafoutis, Homemade Corndogs, New England Clam Stuffie Dressing, Nashville Cornmeal Cookies, Green Chile Corncakes and Blueberry Ricotta Cornmeal Pancakes.
Leftover cornbread stored in the freezer makes a great pan of dressing, or a cornbread salad, and it’s a fantastic casserole topping. Cornbread crumbs add a hefty dimension to beans, vegetables, chile, beef, and creamed chicken. This spring I’ve been combining cooked cabbage and yellow squash and topping it with a thick layer of crumbled cornbread. It’s a vegetable casserole/cornbread dressing mash-up. Serve a cornbread-topped hearty casserole with simply grilled meats; it also makes a grand meatless main dish. Don’t shy away from the cabbage, it becomes wonderfully nutty and sweet as it cooks.
- 4 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 tablespoon butter, plus more for dotting on top of the casserole
- 1 large onion
- 4 to 6 medium yellow squash, sliced
- About 6 cups chopped green cabbage
- 11/2 to 2 cups shredded cheddar cheese or cheese of your choice.
- 3 cups homemade cornbread crumbs
- Heat the oven to 375 degrees.
- Butter a 3-quart or 9 x 13-inch baking dish.
- Melt two tablespoons of the oil and 1 tablespoon of the butter in two large skillets or wide pots with lids.
- Add the onion to one of the pots and cook until tender and lightly browned.
- While the onion is cooking, add the cabbage to the other pot along with a half cup of water.
- Cook over medium high heat until soft and sweet, about 10 minutes.
- Add the squash to the onions along with 1/2 cup of water and cook until very tender, about 10 minutes.
- Combine the vegetables in the buttered baking dish.
- Combine the cornbread with the cheese in a medium mixing bowl and sprinkle over the casserole. Dot with butter.
- Bake about 20 to 30 minutes or until the casserole is hot and the cornbread is crisp.
- Cooking the vegetables separately just seems to keep them more distinct. If you prefer, you can cook them together and just dirty one big pot.