A few years ago I worked with Mindy on her second cookbook for Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Whiskey, Jack Daniel’s Cookbook: Stories and Kitchen Secrets from Miss Mary Bobo’s Boarding House (Thomas Nelson 2012). Mindy and her co-author, Jack Daniel’s great-grandniece Lynne Tolley of Lynchburg, TN, have been food and drink recipe-developing partners for years. Me, I came along at the right time to jump in on the project, although I would have loved joining them at their early James Beard House dinners in New York for those spectacular dining and drinking events. Too late for me!
Until her recent retirement, since 1984 Lynne has been the proprietress of Miss Mary Bobo’s Boarding House, a pre-Civil War boarding house-style restaurant just off the town square in Lynchburg and a short walk from the Jack Daniel’s Distillery. Miss Mary’s serves dinner twice daily and it is a haven for anyone who loves comforting casseroles.
Miss Mary’s Creamy Hominy Spinach Casserole (page 118) is extremely comfortable and about my favorite. It combines a simple white sauce (flour, butter, milk) with easy canned hominy, frozen spinach, and shredded cheese, and topped with breadcrumbs or crackers. At home, Mindy makes most of the casseroles, but this one is mine. I can’t get enough and consider it to be the perfect side to a big steak dinner. Everyone we serve it to is both surprised and in love.
Last Labor Day we held our annual green chile roast in the backyard here in Nashville with 5 cases of green chile from Hatch, NM, and a pile of loyal roasting and peeling friends. Not long after the freezer was stacked with roasted chile we were thinking about dinner and contemplating another hominy casserole when Mindy said, “let’s put green chile in it.”
So, we did and our Green Chile Hominy Spinach Casserole pegged the OMG-ometer. The corny hominy matched with the subtle heat and flavor of the (medium heat) roasted chile sent us straight to the southwest, in our minds anyway. That is a magic combination, corn, and chile, and it’s a true gift handed to us from our native peoples.
What makes this easy to pull together is classic white sauce, the building block of casseroles before canned soup. We call it white sauce, the French call it bechamel. Here’s some background on its importance in basic cooking White Sauce Ratio to Remember and how easily you can add both home-style comfort and elegance to everyday vegetables and casseroles.
- 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons butter
- 1 medium onion, finely chopped
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
- 3 cups milk
- 1 large can (29 ounces, or two 15-ounce cans) hominy, drained
- 1 box (10 ounces) chopped frozen spinach, thawed and squeezed of excess moisture
- About 1 cup chopped roasted green chile (depending on heat level and preference)
- Salt and black pepper, to taste
- 1 1/2 cups shredded white Cheddar or Swiss cheese
- 1 cup crushed saltine-style or butter cracker crumbs, or coarse plain breadcrumbs
Heat the oven to 375°F.
Cook the onion in the 1/4 cup of butter over medium heat until tender, 7 to 8 minutes.
Add the garlic and cook two minutes more to soften (but not burn) the garlic.
Stir in the flour and cook about 1 minute. Stir in the milk, bring to a boil, and cook, stirring constantly, until thickened.
Stir in the hominy, spinach, green chile, and cheese. Season with salt and pepper, to taste.
Pour the mixture into a greased 9 x 13-inch baking dish. Sprinkle with the crumbs and dot with the remaining 2 tablespoons butter.
Bake 30 minutes, or until hot and bubbly. Makes 12 servings.
You can leave out the spinach and make it purely hominy and green chile. Increase the amount of green chile if you are leaving out the spinach for more flavor punch. Depending on the heat level and your taste, you can go as high as 2 cups.