Two weeks ago, I deplaned in New Bern and was greeted by a wall of heat and humidity that could suffocate an elephant. I don’t know if that’s a good analogy or not, but it was brutal. Rocking chairs in the airport lobby, sweet tea for sale in an adjacent kiosk, and good ole’ southern hospitality reminded me how much I’ve missed this place, and that was only in the five minutes it took for me to walk from the gate to grab my bags.
On the way to my parent’s house, we drove past rich farmland, stretched as far as the eye could see, rows filled with soybeans, corn, and tobacco. Tomatoes, snap beans, lettuce, peppers, squash, and any other veggies (you name it) fill the backyard gardens of county residents.
Produce stands dot the backroads; some stands are lucrative businesses with strong standing structures and have names like Petals and Produce and Uncle Jack’s Farm Stand, while others are nameless. Instead of store structures, a few 2x4s and a piece of plywood, are nailed together to form a stand in front of an old trailer or farmhouse. If no one’s there to take your money, you can usually find a box where you can drop off your cash on the honor system, in exchange for some of the freshest produce imaginable.
We stopped at one and though strawberry season is pretty much over in NC, I managed to round up a basket filled with the rich, red, juicy jewels of the southland. The last time I was home, one of my girlfriends made a refreshing strawberry-basil sangria, and every time I see a strawberry, I want to be drinking it, along with basil and copious amounts of booze.
In the vein of pairing strawberries with basil, I didn’t have to go far at all to find what I needed. My mom’s backyard is full of oregano bushes (yes, I said BUSHES–covering a 3 ft by 3 ft space), basil trees (standing 3 feet tall), lavender, rosemary, parsley, and mint.
I went back to Heidi Swanson’s Quinoa Skillet Cornbread recipe (the one which inspired my Honey Cornmeal Cake that didn’t quite turn out how I wanted it to but was still delicious.) and added a few things to make it more of a dessert than a side. Guess what? It turned out beautifully.
- 1 tablespoon butter for skillet
- 1 cup all purpose flour
- ¾ cup coarse yellow cornmeal
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- ½ teaspoon baking soda
- ¼ cup fresh basil, finely chopped
- 2 large eggs
- 1½ cups cooked quinoa, room temperature
- 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
- ½ cup light brown sugar
- 1 teaspoon fine grain sea salt
- 2 cups milk
- 1½ tablespoons lemon juice
- 1 tsp vanilla
- 2 cups of strawberries, sliced
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 1 tsp vanilla
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and place a rack in the top third. Butter a 10-inch oven-proof skillet or equivalent baking dish. Once the oven has preheated, place buttered skillet on oven rack and heat for about 10 minutes.
- Meanwhile, in a large bowl, stir together the flour, cornmeal, baking powder, baking soda, and fresh basil.
- In a separate bowl, beat the eggs, quinoa, and melted butter until well-mixed. Add the sugar, salt, milk, lemon juice, and vanilla and stir again. Fold the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients until the batter comes together. As Heidi from 101 Cookbooks says, "It will seem very thin, don't worry."
- Hull and slice 2 cups of strawberries.
- Take skillet from oven and layer sliced strawberries in the bottom. You'll want to work quickly so the skillet will stay hot when it's time for the batter to be poured in.
- Next, pour the batter over the strawberries.
- In a spouted measuring cup, mix cream and vanilla. Pour the heavy cream into the center of the batter. Do not stir. Carefully (you don't want to spill because it's really loose) place skillet in the oven and check after 45 minutes.
- The skillet bread is done when the top becomes lightly browned and the center just set. If it's not set after 45 minutes, cook for 5-10 minutes more, checking occasionally.
- From 101 Cookbooks:
- *To cook a sizable pot of quinoa: Combine 2 cups / 12 oz / 340 g of well-rinsed (dried) quinoa with 3 cups / 700 ml water and ½ teaspoon fine grain sea salt in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil, cover, reduce heat and simmer for 25 - 30 minutes or until quinoa is tender and you can see the little quinoa curliques. Fluff with a fork.