Cornbread ranks highly on my list of comfort foods. A current staple at any outdoor feast and a hit at our recent July 4th Supper Club, many iterations have featured at meals over the years.
My cornbread hall of fame ranges far and wide. From the infamous Moosewood cookbook recipe made regularly in our house during the vegetarian era of the late 1970’s/early 1980’s to accompany chili sin carne, to the cheesy jalapeño versions consumed in mass quantity while gallivanting around the States in my University days, to the many versions discovered in bread baskets in every region of the Mediterranean while vacationing in the sun.
Without a doubt, the golden squares available at the Ottollenghi establishments dotted around London wins the prize as the most memorable cornbread to land on my plate. Theirs will forever remind me of the surprise 60th birthday party they catered for my mother when I was a blossoming 800 weeks pregnant with G3. Itamar (then head chef at the Notting Hill outpost, now of Honey and Co fame) took charge of the entire shebang with calm and ease despite my obsessive menu consultations discussed with with true hormonal zeal.
Nine years later, that cornbread is the only dish I can remember consuming with gusto while watching Itamar grow whiter over the course of the evening in absolute fear that I may possibly deliver the baby right there and then on the kitchen floor. Their cornbread scattered with aromatics is one of the few recipes they keep under lock and key. The Nopi cookbook has a sweet version, which while more-ish lacks the punch of the savoury version available in the various Ottolenghi establishments.
I have tried various different permutations over the years testing ratios of cornmeal to flour to liquids, returning to the challenge last month in preparation for our July 4th Supper Club, and the guests left us barely any leftovers. I borrowed the addition of aromatics from the 60th Birthday Party cornbread. And here is the result.
The best bit? It is baked in the oven before you even put on the BBQ coals.
Cornbread with Chilies and Spring Onions
Inspired by the cornbread available at all Ottolenghi eateries.
Feel free to add a good handful of grated cheddar for full on Americana (although I prefer it without).
If you want to make this dairy free, replace the melted butter with olive oil and the buttermilk with one 400ml can coconut milk stirred together with the juice of 1 lime.
1 tbsp olive oil
100g (1/2 cup) fresh or frozen corn kernels
1 red chilli
3 spring onions
115g (1 cup) plain flour
150g cornmeal or polenta (not quick cooking)
50g (1/4 cup) sugar
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
2 tbsp melted butter
2 cups buttermilk
Preheat the oven to 190C (375F)
Heat 1 tbsp olive oil in a frying pan or skillet on a medium to high heat and add the corn. If you are using frozen corn you can add it to the pan straight from the freezer. Heat the corn until it starts to brown all over (it will pop a little).
Meanwhile, slice the chilli and spring onion into thin rounds.
When the corn starts to brown all over add the aromatics to the pan and keep cooking for another minute or two until they release their scent and start to cook. Take off the heat and put to one side while you make the cornbread.
Pour 1 tbsp olive oil into a 20cm (8 inch) caste iron skillet or other oven proof pan or cake tin, and pour the oil around to line the base and sides. Place in the oven to heat while you mix the ingredients.
In a medium sized bowl combine the flour, cornmeal or polenta, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt.
Mix together the eggs, buttermilk (or coconut milk and lime) and melted butter (or olive oil).
Make a well in the centre of the dry ingredients and add the wet ingredients and stir well to combine.
Add 3/4 of the corn/chilli/spring onion mixture and stir through until evenly distributed.
Carefully remove your skillet from the oven and pour in the cornbread mixture. Sprinkle the remaining corn mixture over the top of the batter and quickly return the pan to the oven.
Cook for 18-20 minutes until lightly golden on top and the centre is just cooked through. Careful not to overcook or it will dry out.
Serve warm or room temperature. Cornbread is best eaten the day it is made, but also makes a delicious snack toasted the following day with lashings of butter.