My first invitation to lunch In New Orleans after moving here was to meet under the clock at D.H. Holmes and then it was on to Galatoire’s. I’ll never forget that meal – oysters Rockefeller and shrimp-and crab-stuffed eggplant. It took about half a minute to think I’d died and gone to heaven.
I’ve never met a transplant to New Orleans who didn’t have a similar reaction. The joy of food and the fun of fellowship compose the lifestyle of our warmhearted city, born of French tastes and bred in the joie de vivre.
A thought struck me during the stay-home days of the deadly coronavirus. It was that more people were cooking at home than had ever cooked before in metropolitan New Orleans. Were they dragging out “River Road Recipes” or “Paul Prudhomme’s Louisiana Kitchen?” Or, did they do traditional red beans and rice on Monday and seafood gumbo on Friday? With restaurants closed, were they beginning to cook like generations before them?
In “The New Orleans Restaurant Cookbook,” published in 1967, New Yorker Deirdre Stanforth said, “New Orleans is the most food-conscious community in America; in fact, it may well be the only city outside of France where eating is a major love affair of the population.”
Her tattered cookbook, with recipes from the city’s great restaurants, sits on my shelf alongside the equally worn “Picayune Creole Cook Book,” published in 1901 as a bible for home cooks in the city. Recipes include crawfish, turtle and other oddities rarely cooked elsewhere in the United States. Many of the 120-year-old recipes are still in action today including oyster dressing, crawfish bisque, courtbouillon, grillades and pralines.
All in all, it’s what’s for dinner, day in and day out. It will be interesting to see our population barrel into restaurants on the early days of openings. I would be willing to bet that a few people have learned to cook and that many of us will enjoy cooking more than ever. We will forever recall the good things that came out of our quarantine. Perhaps, continuing our great culinary traditions will be one of them.
The New Orleans Muffaletta
1 cup pitted green olives, roughly chopped
½ cup pitted kalamata and/or black olives, roughly chopped
2 tablespoons capers
½ cup gardiniera (pickled vegetables in a jar), chopped
1 stalk celery, chopped
4 garlic cloves, minced
⅓ cup roasted red bell pepper, chopped
⅓ cup chopped onions
½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
¼ cup red wine vinegar
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Makes 3 cups
2 7-inch round muffaletta loaves with sesame seeds*
¼ pound Genoa salami, sliced thin
¼ pound capicola or ham, sliced thin
¼ pound mortadella or sopressata, sliced thin
¼ pound provolone, sliced thin
¼ pound mozzarella, sliced thin
1. Mix olive salad ingredients at least a few hours ahead of time in order for them to marinate. Place in a jar or closed container.
2. Slice muffaletta loaves in half horizontally and place inside up. Spread each with the olive salad, and pour remaining liquid over all. Then alternate the meats and cheeses on the bottom sides and carefully cover with tops. Wrap in foil and let marinate for at least an hour before serving. The sandwich is usually served cold, cut into fourths or smaller wedges. If you prefer it heated, place in a preheated 350-degree oven, still wrapped in foil, for 15 minutes before cutting.
The most popular dish at the Napoleon House, the muffaletta is named for a type of bread baked in Sicily. The sandwich itself was invented in 1906 in by Salvador Lupo, owner of Central Grocery. The bread was baked originally by Union Bakery, owned by a cousin of the Impastato family, which originally owned the grocery. Makes 2 to 4 servings.
Dale Curry is the author of the upcoming “The Essential New Orleans Cookbook,” a publication from Renaissance Publishing. The former food editor of The Times-Picayune, she is also the author of “New Orleans Home Cooking,” and “Gumbo,” a Savor the South cookbook.
Creole Shrimp and Sausage Jambalaya
2 pounds shrimp
2 tablespoons oil
1 pound smoked sausage, cut into inch rounds
1 medium onion, chopped
1 bunch green onions, white and green parts divided, chopped
½ green bell pepper, chopped
½ red bell pepper, chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
4 garlic cloves, minced
4 large fresh ripe tomatoes, or 1 14.5-ounce can whole Roma tomatoes, chopped, with their juice
1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
2 cups long-grain rice
¼ cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
Salt, freshly ground black pepper and Creole seasoning to taste
1. Peel and devein shrimp, reserving peelings and heads. Refrigerate shrimp. Place peelings and heads and 4 cups of water in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil, cover and reduce heat to low. Simmer for 30 minutes. Strain and reserve stock.
2. In a large, heavy pot, heat oil and cook sausage pieces, turning, until brown. Remove to plate.
3. Add white onions to pot and sauté until caramelized. Add bell peppers and celery and sauté over low heat for 10 minutes. Add garlic and sauté a minute more. Add tomatoes and seasonings. Return sausage to pot and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, stirring, cover and simmer for 15 minutes. Add shrimp and cook for 5 more minutes. Remove from heat.
4. Meanwhile, measure shrimp stock and place in a medium saucepan with enough water to make 4 cups. Bring to a boil, add a light sprinkling of salt and rice, cover and reduce heat to low. Cook for 20 to 30 minutes or until there’s no water in the bottom of the pot.
5. When all is cooked, gently fold rice, green onion tops and parsley into shrimp-sausage mixture.
SUBSTITUTE: Use chicken or pork in place of shrimp.
There are a million ways to make jambalaya but this one covers most of the basics. We have to call it “Creole,” however, because of the tomatoes in it. Cajuns, on the other hand, frown upon that practice. Makes 6 to 8 servings.
One-Pot Chicken Dinner
1 whole chicken
1 tablespoon butter
1 onion, chopped
2 stalks celery, cut in ¼-inch slices
2-3 carrots, scraped and cut into ¼-inch rounds
1 cup frozen lima beans
4 cups egg noodles
Salt, freshly ground black pepper and Creole seasoning
1. Remove giblets from chicken and reserve for other use. Rinse chicken well, removing excess fat. Sprinkle with seasonings inside and out.
2. In a large, heavy pot, melt butter and saute onion and celery until wilted. Add 4 cups water, and place chicken in pot. Sprinkle water with a little more seasoning. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to a simmer, cover and simmer on low heat for about 20 minutes.
3. Turn chicken over and add carrots and lima beans to the pot, cover and simmer for 30 minutes. Turn chicken over again. Increase heat to boiling and add noodles, pressing them into water. Reduce heat again and simmer until noodles are al dente, about 10 minutes. Remove from heat. When ready to serve, cut chicken into pieces and slice breast.
There’s a lot to be said for a country-style whole meal cooked in a single pot. It’s easy on the cook and ingredients help to season each other. Makes 6 servings.
1 side fresh salmon, about 2 or 3 pounds
4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Coarse sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Fresh rosemary leaves, about 2 Tablespoons chopped, and some whole rosemary stems for garnish
Juice of 1 lemon
Lemon slices for garnish
1. Salmon can be grilled on either a charcoal grill or gas grill over medium heat. Grill should be scraped and oiled. Place grill about 5 inches over the heat source.
2. Prepare the salmon by sprinkling salt and pepper over both sides, pressing the seasonings into the flesh.
3. Combine 2 Tablespoons rosemary, lemon juice and olive oil in a bowl for basting fish.
4. About half an hour before you want to serve, brush one side of fish with olive oil mixture and place that side over a medium-hot grill. Baste the upper side. Cook for 5 minutes. Turn, baste again and cook for another 5 to 7 minutes, depending on size. Check center of the thickest part with a knife and remove from heat while the inside is pink and shiny. Place on a platter and garnish with rosemary stems and lemon slices.
PAIRING: Pair with a light and fruity pinot noir.
Salmon is wonderful with a smoky taste and so easy to cook on the grill. It cooks in minutes and tastes even fresher when basted with lemon and herbs. Makes 6 servings.
Creole Tomatoes and Sweet Basil
3 large, fresh red-ripe Creole tomatoes
1 cup, packed, fresh sweet basil leaves, roughly chopped, plus 8 whole leaves for garnish
3 large cloves garlic, minced
½ good-quality cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 pound angel hair or other pasta
1 cup freshly grated, high-quality Parmesan cheese
Coarse salt and freshly grated black pepper to taste
Pinch crushed red pepper flakes
1. Chop tomatoes into ½-inch wide cubes and place in medium bowl. Add chopped basil, garlic and seasonings and toss.
2. Cook pasta in lightly salted boiling water until just done. For angel hair, this takes a few minutes; for larger pasta, a little longer. Always pull out a piece and taste it for doneness. Drain and place in large serving bowl.
3. Add tomato mixture to pasta and toss. Sprinkle with Parmesan and toss. Adjust seasonings, and sprinkle top with extra Parmesan, if desired. Garnish with whole basil leaves.
When creole tomatoes are in season, there is no better complement than sweet basil and pasta. Add extra-virgin olive oil and garlic, and you have my favorite summer dish. Makes 4 to 6 servings.