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A Celebrity Chef's Luxe Take on a Simple Salad

By Sean Brock, from Heritage (Artisan Books, 2014)

Salad of Plums and Tomatoes with Raspberry Vinegar, Goat Cheese, and Arugula Pesto

Serves 6

A few years ago, I bought some plums and tomatoes from a farmer at the market. When we loaded them in my truck, I was struck by how great they smelled together. Back in the kitchen, the first thing I did was dress a few plums and tomatoes with a bit of raspberry vinegar—what a revelation! A great raspberry vinegar that has a very low acidity brings out the fruitiness of the ripe tomatoes and marries well with the slight acidity of the plums. The vegetal bite and texture of the arugula pesto brings the sweet bits together very nicely.

4 large heirloom tomatoes (about 6 pounds)
3 ripe plums, cut away from the stones and thinly sliced
½ cup raspberry vinegar
½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
8 ounces goat cheese, crumbled
3 ounces baby arugula, washed, patted dry, and stems removed
Arugula blossoms (optional)

Arugula Pesto
¼ cup pine nuts
1 pound arugula, washed and patted dry
2 ounces Pecorino Romano cheese, grated
1 garlic clove, minced
1 teaspoon sugar
½ cup grapeseed oil
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the arugula pesto: Lightly toast the pine nuts in a skillet over medium heat, about 2 minutes. Watch carefully and stir occasionally to keep them from burning. Transfer to a plate and cool.

Put the pine nuts, arugula, cheese, garlic, and sugar in a blender and blend on high until smooth, about 2 minutes. With the blender running, slowly pour in the oils. When the oils are incorporated, season with salt and pepper. Set aside at room temperature. (The pesto can be made up to 2 days ahead. Transfer to a small container, pour a very thin layer of olive oil over the top to prevent the arugula from discoloring, cover tightly, and refrigerate; bring to room temperature before using.)

Cut three of the tomatoes into interesting shapes: slices, wedges, and rectangles. Lay the tomatoes and plums on a rimmed baking sheet in a single layer. Drizzle with the raspberry vinegar and olive oil and season with salt and pepper.

To complete: Smear ¼ cup of the pesto in a circle on each of six plates. Place slices, wedges, rectangles, and cubes of tomato on each plate. Arrange several plum slices over the tomatoes on each plate. Sprinkle the goat cheese over the plates and garnish with the baby arugula and, if you have them, arugula blossoms.

Cracklin’ Cornbread

Made without flour or sugar, this Southern staple gets a new take from Chef Sean Brock.

By Sean Brock, from Heritage (Artisan Books, 2014)

Cracklin’ Cornbread

Makes one 9-inch round loaf

My favorite ball cap, made by Billy Reid, has a patch on the front that reads “Make Cornbread, Not War.” I’m drawn to it because cornbread is a sacred thing in the South, almost a way of life. But cornbread, like barbeque, can be the subject of great debate among Southerners. Flour or no flour? Sugar or no sugar? Is there an egg involved? All are legitimate questions.

When we opened Husk, I knew that we had to serve cornbread. I also knew that there is a lot of bad cornbread out there in the restaurant world, usually cooked before service and reheated, or held in a warming drawer. I won’t touch that stuff because, yes, I am a cornbread snob. My cornbread has no flour and no sugar. It has the tang of good buttermilk and a little smoke from Allan Benton’s smokehouse bacon. You’ve got to cook the cornbread just before you want to eat it, in a black skillet, with plenty of smoking-hot grease. That is the secret to a golden, crunchy exterior. Use very high heat, so hot that the batter screeches as it hits the pan. It’s a deceptively simple process, but practice makes perfect, which may be why many Southerners make cornbread every single day.

4 ounces bacon, preferably Benton’s
2 cups cornmeal, preferably Anson Mills Antebellum Coarse Yellow Cornmeal
1 teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon baking powder
1½ cups whole-milk buttermilk
1 large egg, lightly beaten

1.  Preheat the oven to 450°F. Put a 9-inch cast-iron skillet in the oven to preheat for at least 10 minutes.

2.  Run the bacon through a meat grinder or very finely mince it. Put the bacon in a skillet large enough to hold it in one layer and cook over medium-low heat, stirring frequently so that it doesn’t burn, until the fat is rendered and the bits of bacon are crispy, 4 to 5 minutes. Remove the bits of bacon to a paper towel to drain, reserving the fat. You need 5 tablespoons bacon fat for this recipe.

3.  Combine the cornmeal, salt, baking soda, baking powder, and bits of bacon in a medium bowl. Reserve 1 tablespoon of the bacon fat and combine the remaining 4 tablespoons fat, the buttermilk, and egg in a small bowl. Stir the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients just to combine; do not overmix.

4.  Move the skillet from the oven to the stove, placing it over high heat. Add the reserved tablespoon of bacon fat and swirl to coat the skillet. Pour in the batter, distributing it evenly. It should sizzle.

5.  Bake the cornbread for about 20 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Serve warm from the skillet.