AMERICA’S FIRST FOODIE…A FOUNDING FATHER

Thomas Jefferson would be the number one guest invited to my dream dinner party.  We all know how brilliant he was- statesman, inventor, architect and farmer, to name a few.  His garden at Monticello not only revolutionized farming in our country, but must have inspired thousands if not millions to this day to start their own home gardens.  He kept journals of his 1000 foot-long vegetable garden and apparently knew that his crop failures would eventually lead to success.  I live by that rule myself.

I have read that Mr. Jefferson loved fresh fruit and vegetables.  AND almost 200 years later we now embrace the buy local, eat fresh movement.  He was so fond of sweet corn that he raised it in his Paris garden.  Also among the native delicacies he preferred were figs, sweet potatoes, green peas, crabs, oysters and Virginia ham**.  His African-American servants (they were never referred to as slaves) were chefs trained in French cooking and their meals were created with crops that would grow in this region.  Although primarily a vegetarian, on occasion he did eat meat and loved ice cream.  So let me create a menu that I might have prepared for our late, great, foodie founding father.

**I cannot let this pass by without a comment.  My father was a gentle southerner born in Grottoes, VA (a tiny town 40 miles NW of Monticello) who also loved Virginia ham.  The original SMITHFIELD hams were peanut fed hogs long-cured with dry salt which I am sure Thomas Jefferson ate- they had an unusual and wonderful smoky flavor.  Hideously salty as well.  The hogs are no longer raised in this manner but the trademark name still exists.  Don’t be fooled by the name…

ALI’S PRIVATE DINNER MENU

ROASTED OYSTERS

CRAB SAUTEED WITH VIRGINIA HAM

OVEN BAKED SWEET POTATOES

GRILLED CORN CAKES

BUTTERED SWEET PEAS

VANILLA ICE CREAM WITH ROASTED FIGS

Keep in mind that all ingredients are fresh, local and in season- HEY, c’mon it’s my fantasy dinner and every wish is my command!

Roasted Oysters

Easy appetizer…

Ingredients:

  • Fresh, local Choptank ‘Sweets’, 3 oysters per person, shucked, preserving shells
  • Sea salt
  • Pancetta or bacon, chopped
  • Sriracha hot sauce
  • Fresh bread crumbs
  • Parsley, chopped
  • Olive oil
  • Fresh lemons

Preparation:

  1. Place oyster shells on baking sheet.
  2. Sprinkle each shell with sea salt.
  3. Place an oyster on each shell.
  4. Top each with a small amount of pancetta, drop of hot sauce, then bread crumbs and parsley that were ground in a food processor with olive oil to moisten.
  5. Bake at 450 degrees for 5 minutes.  Squeeze lemon juice over each and fight off your guests until they are brought to the table.

You can save the oyster shells for the next time that you make this aphrodisiac by washing them in the dishwasher…

CRAB SAUTEED WITH VIRGINIA HAM

Sometimes in restaurants this dish is called Crab Norfolk.  You can call it whatever you like- it is just huge chunks of local, fresh jumbo lump crab meat sautéed in a ton of butter with chopped Virginia ham (already cooked).  The blend of crab and ham together gives it a sweet, slightly smoky flavor.  Don’t be tempted to use Old Bay- the ham creates the seasoning.  The dish is sinfully rich and very high in cholesterol.

OVEN BAKED SWEET POTATOES

Wash whole sweet potatoes then cut in half.  Score the potatoes, brush butter over the top, sprinkle with salt and pepper and bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes.  If you want to go all out serve with a dollop of crème fraiche.

GRILLED CORN CAKES

Yummy side dish.

Ingredients:

  • 6 ears fresh corn, blanched and cut off the cob
  • ¾ cup shredded mozzarella cheese
  • 1 cup coarse plain breadcrumbs
  • 1/3 cup chopped fresh chives
  • 1 T. sour cream
  • 1 t. kosher salt
  • ½ t. fresh ground pepper
  • olive oil

Preparation:

  1. In a food processor, pulse the corn into a thick chunky puree.
  2. In a bowl, combine puree with cheese, ½ cup breadcrumbs, chives, sour cream, salt and pepper then form mixture into 2-1/2 inch patties.  Refrigerate for 30 minutes.
  3. Coat patties with remaining breadcrumbs and brush lightly with olive oil.
  4. Place patties on a grill pan over medium-high heat on the grill.  Grill 4-5 minutes per side.

Take note:  use exact measurements or the cakes will be too wet and fall apart when you turn them.  I have also used a grill cage for easier flipping.

BUTTERED SWEET PEAS

Anyone who has eaten small, fresh green peas in the springtime is not likely to forget them.  I am sure Thomas Jefferson did not.  I even like them and I am not a big fan of the pea.

Blanch 2 pounds of these tender morsels in a large pot of boiling salted water.  Drain; then place in a vegetable dish, season with salt and pepper and top with pieces of butter.  Preparing them in this manner preserves the color, texture and taste and would undoubtedly make Julia Child smile.

VANILLA ICE CREAM WITH ROASTED FIGS

Purchase the best vanilla ice cream available or make your own.  Cut the hard stems off twelve ripe figs and cut in half through the stem.  Place all halves cut side up on a baking rack.  Roast at 450 degrees for about 10 minutes, until tender.  Serve a few figs over two scoops of ice cream.  Now, you could really get decadent and drizzle caramel sauce over this dessert to make a ‘sundae’ or skip the ice cream and just serve the figs with a caramel sauce and nuts.

Would you like to join Thomas (we’re on a first name basis at this point) and me for dinner?  Bon Appétit!

ALI

For all of you American history buffs like myself, I want to share an interesting historical fact.  Thomas Jefferson died on July 4, 1826, the 50th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence.  John Adams died the same day…oooh the irony and a spooky coincidence, huh?

And, by the way…I don’t have a bucket list (those of you who know me well know what kind of list I do keep) but Charlottesville, VA is the number one priority for my next vacation spot.  Autumn is my favorite season and I understand that central Virginia in the Shenandoah is stunning this time of the year.  Also, I must visit Grottoes.  I’ll keep you posted (pun intended).

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One comment

  1. Fantastic menu! Let’s put it together soon!

    Like

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