It is never good news when your phone rings before the sun comes up. That was the case when I received a text with the sad news that Julia Reed had passed away after a long battle with cancer.
Unfortunately, I never met Julia. If you ever read her columns or cookbooks, you felt like she was the guest you wanted to invite to dinner and the hostess from whom you were hoping to receive an invitation. Julia’s father and I were very close years ago, and I will never forget the beautiful wedding gift I received from Judy and Clark Reed. It was a set of antique fish knives and forks. They came in a beautiful box, lined with velvet and silk and even had a little tag inside from an antique store in New Orleans. I always envisioned Julia picking them out for her father, and that made me love them even more.
Julia was a force of nature and a Mississippi icon. She was a gifted writer who combined a stinging wit and a fun-loving charm who drew you into every story she told. She was an amazing cook and even better hostess. Her parties were legendary, whether they were in New York City, New Orleans, or the Mississippi Delta. She was an ambassador for the South and a treasure to our state. She could write a story so vivid about her beloved Mississippi Delta that you could almost taste the whiskey and feel the hot, humid Delta air. She loved to host people from around the world and enjoyed introducing them to southern food, affirming the concept that food is love.
Here are a few of my favorite recipes from her wonderful cookbook “Julia Reed’s South: Spirited Entertaining and High Style Fun All Year Long.” Check out that book as well as many others by Julia for delicious recipes and fun entertaining ideas.
Julia always served a special cocktail when she hosted a dinner. The drinks and wine was as important as the food. Her recipe for a Southside is one of my favorite summer drinks. I have an abundance of fresh mint and a thirst for a refreshing and light cocktail.
This recipe serves one, but feel free to do the math and make a pitcher by muddling the mint at the bottom of the pitcher before adding the remaining ingredients.
8 mint leaves, plus more for garnish
1 piece of lemon zest, about 1 inch wide
3 ounces of gin (I am a light-weight so I found this to be a little too boozy for my taste. Cut the gin to your taste.)
1 ounce simple syrup
1 1/2 ounces of fresh lemon juice
3/4 ounces club soda
Place mint leaves and lemon zest at the bottom of a cocktail shaker and crush with the back of a spoon or muddler to release their oils. Add the gin, simple syrup, and lemon juice and shake well. Pour into a highball glass filled with ice. Top with club soda and garnish with mint leaf and lemon slices.
To make simple syrup: combine one cup of sugar and one cup of water in a medium sauce pan. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for about two to three minutes. Remove from heat and allow to cool before storing in the refrigerator. Simple syrup may be stored in the refrigerator for up to one month.
Tomato Tarte Tatin
When I noticed that her cookbook, Julia Reed’s South, devoted an entire chapter to tomatoes, I knew it would be one of my favorites. There is truly nothing better than a good ripe summer tomato. This recipe has several steps and takes a little bit of time, but is well worth it. Read the recipe in its entirety before you start cooking and feel free to roast the tomatoes and cook onions several days before.
I have always described the Tatin as a “fancy French tomato tart.”
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 cups cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
2 garlic cloves, finally chopped
1 large onion, thinly sliced
Kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper
2 teaspoons fennel seeds
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons raw sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
Leaves from 3 thyme sprigs, plus more for garnish
Leaves from 1 oregano sprig, plus more for garnish
3 large heirloom tomatoes cut and 1/4 inch slices
8 ounces crumbled goat cheese, about 2 cups
1 sheet frozen puff pastry, thawed
Preheat oven to 275°. Brush a nine inch round baking pan or cake pan with olive oil and line the bottom with a circle of parchment paper. On a separate cookie sheet, toss the cherry tomatoes with one tablespoon of olive oil, the garlic, a healthy pinch of salt and a couple of grinds of pepper. Roast in the oven for 40 minutes.
In a separate skillet, heat the remaining two tablespoons olive oil and add the onion with additional pinch of salt. Cook until golden brown, about 10 minutes. (If making ahead, combine the roasted tomatoes and onions in store in the refrigerator until ready to assemble the tarte.)
When ready to prepare the tarte, preheat the oven to 400°. In a small skillet stir the fennel seeds with a wooden spoon over medium heat until they are toasted and you can smell the aroma. Be careful not to burn them. Add two tablespoons butter to the skillet. Once it has melted, stir in the sugar and the vinegar. Remove the fennel mixture from the heat and spread it over the bottom of the prepared round baking pan. Scatter the thyme leaves and oregano leaves on top of the fennel seed mixture. Next, add the heirloom tomato slices in a single closely packed layer. Season with salt and pepper. Next, top with the roasted cherry tomatoes and sautéed onions being careful to fill in any gaps. Scatter or spread the softened goat cheese over the tomatoes.
Cut a round of puff pastry one-inch larger than the diameter of the pan. Lay the pastry round over the tarte filling and tuck the edges into the pan. Bake the tarte for 30 minutes at 400°, and then lower the temperature to 350° and bake for an additional 20 minutes. Allow to cool for 10 minutes and then place a serving plate on top of the baking pan. Hold the plate firmly and quickly invert the tarte. Carefully lift off the pan and rearrange any tomatoes that might have been dislodged. Scatter the top with more fresh herbs.
You can serve it as an appetizer or with a salad as a great lunch.
Zucchini Pudding Soufflés
with Creamy Tomato Sauce
My daughter has become quite the cook and recently discovered several of Julia‘s amazing recipes. She found this when trying to come up with a vegetarian meal to serve to her friends. It is perfect for a party because everything can be made ahead and simply baked before the guests arrive.
1 pound zucchini, washed, trimmed and coarsely grated
2 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons butter, plus more for greasing the ramekins
5 tablespoons finely grated Parmesan cheese, separated
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 cup milk
2/3 cup grated Gruyere cheese (I substituted 3/4 cup extra sharp cheddar cheese)
3 large eggs, separated
Freshly ground black pepper and salt to taste
Creamy tomato sauce (recipe follows)
Toss the grated zucchini and 1 3/4 teaspoons of the salt in a large bowl. Let it sit or 30 minutes. Butter six four-ounce ramekins and dust with two tablespoons of grated Parmesan cheese. Drain the zucchini, rinse well, and squeeze out excess water in handfuls using paper towels. Preheat oven to 350°. In a large sauté pan, melt two tablespoons of butter over medium heat. Add the zucchini and sauté, tossing often and spreading out with a wooden spoon until dried and slightly colored, seven to eight minutes. Set aside.
In a sauce pan, melt the remaining four tablespoons butter over low heat. Add the flour, one tablespoon at a time, whisking to prevent any clumps. Continue whisking for about three minutes and then add the milk and whisk until the sauce comes to a boil. Remove the pan from heat and stir in the Gruyere cheese and one tablespoon of additional Parmesan cheese. Allow to cool for a few minutes, then whisk in the egg yolks, one at a time. Stir and the zucchini, the remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt, and a couple of grind of pepper.
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment, beat the egg whites until stiff. Gently fold the egg whites into the zucchini mixture. Spoon the mixture into the prepared ramekins until just more than 3/4 full. Sprinkle one tablespoon of the remaining Parmesan cheese on top and set them into a deep baking dish. (Use a Pyrex casserole dish.) Pour enough hot water into the dish to reach halfway up the sides of the ramekins, place on the middle rack of the oven, and bake for about 25 minutes, until the puddings are puffed and slightly brown on top. Remove from the water bath and allow to cool for 10 minutes. You can store in refrigerator until ready to serve.
When ready to serve, run a knife around the edge of each ramekin and invert the soufflés into the palm of your hand or onto a small plate. Arrange the soufflés, browned side up about one inch apart in a Pyrex or ceramic baking dish. When you are ready to bake, preheat oven to 400° and prepare the tomato cream sauce. Pour the sauce over and around the puddings, being careful not to get any on top. Sprinkle with remaining one tablespoon Parmesan cheese. Bake until the soufflés are puffed up again and the sauce is bubbling, about 10 minutes. Serve each soufflé on a plate with a few tablespoons of the tomato sauce.
Creamy Tomato Sauce: Whisk together one cup tomato purée and two cups heavy cream along with salt, freshly ground black pepper, and a pinch of cayenne pepper.
The first time I made this dish, I did not have any tomato purée or cream. I simply combined a 12 ounce jar of plain pasta sauce and one cup of milk.
VD Dinner and Mrs. Reed’s
I love the story that Julia tells of her mother, Judy, developing something they referred to as her VD dinner. VD stands for “Visiting Dignitary” and the Reed’s hosted many amazing people over the years. Mrs. Reed’s genius idea was to have a simple but delicious meal that she was always ready to serve in the event of a special guest. We do not host many visiting dignitaries at my house, but I have developed and used a trusted VD menu of my own. It is relatively simple and keeps me from being a stressed out hostess.
Julia‘s mother’s VD dinner always included rare beef tenderloin or ribeye roast, scalloped oysters, a spinach casserole, rice, homemade rolls and a Charlotte Russe or chocolate mousse for dessert. My VD dinner menu is slightly different and involves beef tenderloin, goat cheese scalloped potatoes, roasted asparagus, a big green salad, and a simple amaretto ice cream with a cookie. It is always a big hit. No matter how often you entertain, I think everyone should have a standard VD dinner and embrace the simplicity of having people for dinner.
Judy Reed’s Charlotte Russe
1/2 cup whole milk
2 tablespoons (or two envelopes) unflavored gelatin
1 quart heavy cream, plus whipped cream for garnish
1 1/2 cup sugar
5 large eggs, separated
1/2 cup bourbon or Brandy
About 24 ladyfingers split apart
Place milk in a sauce pan and sprinkle the gelatin over the surface. Set aside for about five minutes to soften. Heat over low heat until the gelatin has dissolved and then set aside to cool.
In a large bowl, beat the heavy cream and one cup of sugar with an electric mixer until firm peaks form when the beaters are raised. Set aside. Place the egg yolks in a second large bowl and gradually beat in the remaining 1/2 cup sugar. Beat at high speed for several minutes until the mixture is thick and pale yellow.
Stir in the gelatin mixture and the bourbon or Brandy. With a rubber spatula, carefully fold in 1/4 of the whipped cream to lighten the mixture. Then fold in the remaining whipped cream.
In another large bowl, using clean beaters, beat the egg whites until soft peaks form when the beaters are raised. Fold the egg whites into the cream mixture.
Line a deep trifle bowl with the ladyfingers, split edges facing inward. Spoon in the cream mixture, cover with plastic wrap, and chill in the refrigerator for about 4 to 6 hours.
When ready to serve, decorate the Charlotte Russe with dollops of extra whipped cream on top.
Although we never met, through her writing and cooking both of which showcased her vibrant personality, she made us all feel like friends. She was smart, outspoken, and a passionate cheerleader for Mississippi. She wrote of the warm and interesting people she met and introduced readers to the intriguing mystery that is “life in the Mississippi Delta.” I will miss her columns, her stories, her fabulous recipes and her love of southern food.
Many prayers to the Reed family on their loss.