Reclaiming Virginia’s delicious dishes
Throughout its history, Virginia has been a leading tastemaker in food and foodways. Our Commonwealth is rich in ingredients and hospitality, and our recipes tell not just the story of the state, but the story of our people.
From the first roasted oysters eaten by English colonists in 1607 to current day dishes, these are the things that make us who we are. Nourishing our bodies and souls, they connect us like an edible time machine to our collective past.
Recipe Restoration is an ongoing look at these recipes, and you are encouraged to share some of your favorites from your family’s heritage. Perhaps it was a casserole your mother made or a pound cake perfected by your grandmother. Maybe it was fried chicken from an aunt or scuppernong wine made by a cousin. Share the recipes and the stories behind them with us!
Here are a few recipes to get things started from my book, Dishing Up Virginia:
Ramp & Mushroom Strata
(Pictured Above) Each spring, ramps (a type of wild leek) grow nearby. These pungent greens are foraged wild and provide a strong garlic-and-onion flavor in dishes. Here, that taste is tempered in a classic custard dish with eggs, milk, and cheese, and accented with the early addition of mushrooms and a sweet onion like Vidalia.
6–8 ramps, trimmed
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 pound mushrooms, chopped
1⁄2 sweet onion, such as Vidalia, diced
Nonstick cooking spray
12 slices white bread, cubed
1 pound Swiss cheese, shredded (3–4 cups)
4 cups whole milk
1 teaspoon dry mustard
1 teaspoon salt
1⁄2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1⁄2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons butter
Bring a medium-sized pot of water to a boil and prepare an ice-water bath. Drop the ramps in the boiling water for about 1 minute, then plunge quickly in the ice-water bath to stop cooking and set the color.
Remove from the bath, pat dry and roughly chop.
Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Stir in the mushrooms and cook for about 20 minutes or until tender. Transfer the mushrooms to a medium bowl with a slotted spoon and set aside. Add the onion to the skillet and cook for 5 minutes longer. Add the ramps, cook for 5 minutes longer, and drain. Combine the mushrooms, ramps and onions in the bowl.
Lightly coat a 9- by 13-inch pan with nonstick cooking spray and evenly distribute the bread cubes into the pan. Top with the “mushroom-onion-ramp” mixture and then the cheese.
Whisk the eggs, milk, dry mustard, salt, cayenne and black pepper together in a medium bowl. Pour the egg mixture on top of the bread and cheese. Dot the top of the strata with the butter, cover and refrigerate at least 8 hours or overnight. Remove the strata from the refrigerator, uncover, and allow to sit at least 30 minutes before baking.
Bake the strata for about 1 hour or until the top is bubbly and golden brown and a knife inserted in the center comes out clean. Allow to stand about 10 minutes before serving.
Makes 8 servings.
Pan-Fried Trout With Honey-Pecan Butter
It’s not just the Atlantic Ocean and Chesapeake Bay that provide Virginia with delicious fish. Streams, lakes and ponds yield a variety of catches as well, including trout. In Virginia, there is brook, brown and rainbow trout, all tasty in their own ways, especially prepared simply like this.
Honey-Pecan Butter Ingredients
1⁄2 cup (1 stick) butter, softened
1 tablespoon honey
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1⁄8 teaspoon ground cloves
1⁄8 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper
1⁄8 teaspoon salt
1⁄4 cup pecans, toasted and finely chopped
Pan-Fried Trout Ingredients
1⁄2 cup all-purpose flour
1⁄2 cup cornmeal
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1⁄4 teaspoon garlic powder
1⁄4 teaspoon dried thyme
1⁄8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
4 whole trout, dressed
3 tablespoons canola oil
1 tablespoon butter
4 fresh thyme sprigs
Make the butter. Combine the butter, honey, cinnamon, cloves, black pepper and salt in a small bowl. Fold in the pecans, incorporating thoroughly. Shape the mixture into a log on a piece of wax paper, roll tightly, and refrigerate at least 2 hours.
Prepare the trout. Whisk the flour, cornmeal, salt, black pepper, garlic powder, thyme and cayenne together in a large, shallow bowl. Rinse the fish under cold water and lightly pat dry. Dredge both sides of each fish in the flour-cornmeal mixture.
Heat the canola oil and butter in a large skillet over medium heat until the butter melts. Carefully lay the fish in the skillet, cooking just 1 or 2 fish at a time so as not to overcrowd. Cook the fish, turning once, until golden and the flesh flakes, about 4 to 6 minutes. Cover cooked trout with a clean kitchen towel or place on an ovenproof plate in a slow oven to keep warm.
Slice the honey-pecan butter into 1⁄4-inch rounds. Divide the fish among four plates and place a pat of butter atop each piece of fish. (Reserve the remaining butter for another use.) Garnish each serving with a thyme sprig and serve immediately.
Note: Pan-frying is a traditional way of cooking trout. For this recipe, you need to gut the fish and remove the scales and gills but leave the head and tail intact.
A Pie Called Macaroni
While abroad in Italy, Thomas Jefferson tried a dish unknown to him—macaroni—and was smitten. He shipped a pasta machine back to Virginia and began serving it to guests.
Congressman Manasseh Cutler of Massachusetts wrote this of the dinner he attended at the White House on February 6, 1802: “Dined at the President’s—Rice soup, round of beef, turkey, mutton, ham, loin of veal, cutlets of mutton or veal, fried eggs, fried beef, a pie called macaroni.”
Here’s our take on a classic recipe from Mary Randolph’s 1824 The Virginia Housewife cookbook:
1 1⁄2 tablespoons plus 1 1⁄2 teaspoons salt
1⁄4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1⁄4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1⁄4 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
2 cups elbow macaroni
2 cups milk
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons flour
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
5 1⁄2 ounces sharp cheddar cheese, shredded (about 1 1⁄2 cups)
3 tablespoons butter
1 cup fine breadcrumbs
1⁄2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Make the macaroni. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter a 2-quart baking dish and set aside.
Combine 1 1⁄2 teaspoons of the salt, the black pepper, pepper flakes and nutmeg in a small bowl. Set aside.
Bring 4 quarts of water to a boil in a large stockpot over medium-high heat and add the remaining salt. Add the pasta and stir. Cook, stirring frequently, until the pasta is al dente, 7 to 11 minutes.
Remove the stockpot from the heat, add 1 cup cold water, and stir. Drain the pasta well in a colander and rinse lightly under warm water. Shake dry, transfer the pasta to a large bowl, and set aside.
Heat the milk in a small saucepan over medium heat until warm. Meanwhile melt the butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Whisk the flour into the butter, stirring until blended and smooth, about 1 minute. Gradually pour the milk into the butter-flour mixture, whisking constantly until the mixture thickens, 5 to 6 minutes.
Whisk in the reserved spice mix and Dijon mustard. Add the cheese and stir until melted and smooth. Pour the sauce over the pasta, stirring to coat, and transfer to the prepared baking dish.
Make the topping. Heat the butter in a medium skillet over medium- high heat until melted.
Add the breadcrumbs, and toss to coat. Remove from the heat, and stir in the Parmesan.
Evenly sprinkle the topping on the pasta. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes or until the top is bubbly and golden.
Makes 4-6 servings.
By Patrick Evans-Hylton