With the onset of cooler days, I find myself longing for barefoot afternoons and ways to keep the darkness at bay, like squeezing one last camping trip out of the season, and keeping the outdoor grills fired up. I also took a quick trip to North Carolina's Chapel Hill-Durham area to visit and eat and cook with friends, including Sara Foster, cookbook author and founder of the beloved Foster’s Markets, and Frances Mayes, author of “Under the Tuscan Sun” and a soon-to-be released memoir. We also got to taste her new collection of Tuscan Sun wines -- all delicious and sun-filled and will retail for around $10-$15.
The community of chefs and writers in the area is tight-knit and raucous, unpretentious, and extremely well-versed in the ways of the kitchen. Aside from cooking up market produce (I love the Carrboro and Durham farmers markets), we also left a trail of crumbs -- from tacos at Taqueria la Vaquita to black pepper cornbread and shrimp and grits at Crook’s Corner, to lovely cow’s milk cheeses of Chapel Hill Creamery and savory small dishes from the SEEDS benefit dinner. I am always delighted to discover new local places, like tapas bar Mateo and Pizzeria Toro.
I love good food, whether it's a Cubano sandwich and beer from a walk-up window in Miami or a unique meal from a 3-star Michelin restaurant. How wonderful it was to discover that I could have both in one experience, at Ricky Moore's Saltbox.
After serving his country in the U.S. Army, Moore, an Eastern Carolina native, studied at the Culinary Institute of America on the G.I. Bill and cooked in restaurants from Paris to Chicago to Washington, D.C., He has many other travels on his wish list, including Alaska, but for now, he is manning the grill and fryer in his own matchbox kitchen in Downtown Durham, where he will be celebrating the one-year anniversary of Saltbox, his first solo venture. A walk-up window with picnic tables, Saltbox is officially open Tuesday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., or until the food sells out, which is more like 3 p.m. Moore kindly let me and chef Bill Smith into his kitchen on a Monday, when he was closed and had time to share his recipe for succotash, a savory corn and bean dish that can be adapted using local ingredients.
A succotash, simmered and hearty, is a wonderful way to highlight late summer corn and the last of the season’s tomatoes (still available at farmers markets in Alaska). Moore’s French culinary experiences show through in his use of fines herbes and lemon zest to finish this dish, plus some other tricks, including a corn stock (simmered corn cobs and water) and homemade mint chutney, which you can make or buy. The recipe calls for fresh lima beans, but frozen work just as well; add them when you stir in the corn. Also, feel free to use a combination of your favorite legumes, including limas, crowders, favas, and black-eyed peas. If using dried beans, cook until tender but not mushy, then stir in with the corn.
Ricky Moore’s Saltbox Succotash
Courtesy of Chef Ricky Moore, Durham, N.C.
1. In a large pot (6-quart Dutch oven) heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add the onion, celery, and green bell pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, about 10 minutes, until vegetables are softened and start to caramelize.
2. Add the thyme and cinnamon, corn and lima beans and stir to combine. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Add corn stock or vegetable broth and canned tomatoes.
3. Stir and bring to a boil, reduce heat to medium-low and let simmer, covered, about 15 minutes or until corn and beans are tender. Taste and add more salt and pepper, as needed.
4. Stir in fresh tomatoes, lemon zest, mint chutney, smoked mussel or salmon, and fresh herbs; stir and let cook about 5 to 10 minutes. Serve warm with rice or cornbread, if desired.
Late summer corn-and-tomato recipes:
Suvir Saran’s Summer Tomato Pie
Sheri Castle’s Eggplant, Tomato, and Feta Gratin
Chris Cosentino’s Roasted Tomatoes and Olives via Laurie Constantino
Roasted Tomato Soup from Alaska from Scratch
Indian-spiced Street Corn with Cilantro and Lime by Sukhi Singh
Kim Sunée is the author of the national bestseller, "Trail of Crumbs: Hunger, Love, and the Search for Home." She worked as a food editor for the magazines Southern Living and Cottage Living, and her writing has appeared in Food & Wine, The Oxford American, and Asian American Poetry and Writing. She has appeared several times as a guest judge on Food Network’s "Iron Chef America" and is currently based in Anchorage, where she's working on a cookbook to be published in 2014. For more food and travel, visit www.kimsunee.com.