Side Dish: ‘South’ series adds peach, tomato books

The University of North Carolina Press continues its wonderful series of little cookbooks that look at the favorite foods and culinary traditions in the American South with “Tomatoes” by Miriam Rubin and “Peaches” by Kelly Alexander.

Like the series’ first two books, “Pecans” and “Buttermilk,” the two new books open with a short history of their subject and some selection and preparation tips. Among the info: The tomato, which originated in South America, got its name from the Aztecs who called the plant “xitomatl.” And it was the Spaniards who introduced peaches to the New World via St. Augustine, Fla., in 1513.

Rubin, a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America and the first woman to work in the kitchen of the Four Seasons Restaurant, delivers 50 easy-to-follow, kitchen-tested recipes for the tomato, a Southern staple. Among the book’s recipes are Bloody Mary, Stand-Over-The-Sink Tomato Sandwiches, Curried Tomato Soup, Baked Garlic-Cheese Grits With Tomato-Crunch Topping, Fried Green Tomatoes, Green Tomato and Apple Pie, and Heirloom Tomato Jam With Lemon.

In “Peaches,” Atlanta native Alexander begins her 45-recipe collection with desserts, but does include some classic and contemporary options for breakfast, main dish, appetizer, condiments and drinks. Her recipes include Perfect Peach Pie, North Carolina Barbecue Joint-Style Peach Cobbler, Peach French Toast Sandwiches, Peach Tempura, Peach-Glazed Ham, Pickled Peaches and Frozen White Peach Margarita.

Recipes in both books are clearly and concisely written, but don’t include nutritional information. There also aren’t any photographs in the books. What the books do offer are an interesting mix of recipes that are sure to entice the reader into the kitchen.

Cheramie Sonnier is The Advocate’s Food editor. Her email address is csonnier@theadvocate.com.

Advocate-tested recipe

Quick Rosemary Tomato Sauce

Makes 4-5 servings, enough for 1 pound of pasta. Recipe is from “Tomatoes, a Savor the South Cookbook” by Miriam Rubin, who writes, “This is a recipe you’ll turn to often in tomato season — or anytime — for a quick, delicious meal. Feel free to use any tomatoes that are getting soft or mealy. If you prefer a thicker sauce, stir in 1-2 tablespoons of tomato paste when it’s nearly done. You can also make it with canned tomatoes.”

3 tbls. olive oil

2 large garlic cloves, thinly sliced

2 to 3 rosemary sprigs (about 2 inches long)

3 lbs. ripe tomatoes, about half San Marzanos or Romas and the rest heirlooms or sauce tomatoes, peeled, cored and cut into rough 1/2-inch pieces (about 6 cups) or 2 (28-oz.) cans whole tomatoes in juice, drained (1 cup juice reserved, cut into 1/2-inch pieces

1/2 tsp. kosher salt

1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper

1. Put the olive oil, garlic and rosemary sprigs in a large, deep, heavy skillet over medium heat. Cook, stirring, until the garlic just starts to brown at the edges, about 3 minutes.

2. Add the fresh tomatoes (or the canned tomatoes and reserved juice), salt and pepper and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer briskly, uncovered, stirring often and crushing the tomatoes with a potato masher, untilt he sauce is thickened and flavorful, 25-30 minutes. Remove the rosemary sprigs. (Some of the leaves will fall off, which I never mind.) Taste for seasoning.

Sour Cream Peach Cake

Makes 8 servings. Recipe is from “Peaches, a Savor the South Cookbook” by Kelly Alexander, who says, “This is a moist and very simple cake, a great one to bake with a kitchen-curious kid, made slightly more elegant thanks to slices of fresh peaches sandwiched between its rich layers. It’s an excellent finish to a backyard barbecue or a light summer lunch, but it can also be a decadent breakfast during peach season.”

1 stick unsalted butter, at room temperature

11/2 cups sugar, divided

3 large eggs

1 cup sour cream

1 tsp. vanilla

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 tsp. baking soda

1 tsp. baking powder

1/2 tsp. kosher salt

1 tsp. cinnamon

3 large peaches, peeled, pitted and sliced

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9-inch square baking pan.

2. In a bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and 1 cup of the sugar for 3-5 minutes. on medium-high speed until light and fluffy. With the mixer on low, add the eggs one at a time, then the sour cream and vanilla, and mix until the batter is smooth. In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt. With the mixer on low, slowly add the dry ingredients to the batter and mix just until combined. In a small bowl, combine the remaining 1/2 cup of sugar and cinnamon.

3. Spread half of the batter evenly in the pan. top with half of the peaches, then sprinkle with two-thirds of the sugar mixture. Spread the remaining batter on top, arrange the remaining peaches on top of that, and sprinkle with the remaining sugar mixture.

4. Bake for 45-55 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Transfer to a rack to cool for at least 20 minutes. Cut into squares and serve warm or at room temperature topped with whipped cream or a favorite ice cream if you like.