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Baked Bean and Spoon Bread Cobbler

This Southern-inspired dish combines the best of both worlds: spicy baked beans and a soft, custardy spoon bread. If you cook the beans in advance, gently warm them before topping with the spoon bread batter and baking.

Ingredients:

For the beans:

  • 1 lb. navy beans
  • 1 meaty ham hock
  • 4 garlic cloves, peeled and halved
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 Tbs. vegetable oil
  • 2 cups diced yellow onions
  •  

For the baked bean spice mix:

  • 1 cup blackstrap molasses (unsulphured)
  • 1/2 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
  • 1 cup ketchup
  • 2 Tbs. Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 Tbs. dry mustard
  • 2 Tbs. coarse or kosher salt
  • Pinch of ground cloves
  • 1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp. coarsely ground black pepper
  •  

For the spoon bread:

  • 1 cup yellow cornmeal (preferably finely ground)
  • 1 1/2 tsp. coarse or kosher salt, plus a pinch
  • 1 1/2 Tbs. sugar
  • Pinch of cayenne pepper
  • 3 cups milk     
  • 3 Tbs. unsalted butter
  • 4 extra-large eggs, separated
  • 2 tsp. baking powder

Directions:

To prepare the beans, pick over the beans and discard any misshapen ones and stones. Rinse the beans and drain. Place in a 6-quart ovenproof stockpot or a 5 1/2-quart Dutch oven and add water to cover the beans by 2 inches. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, then cover, remove from the heat and let stand for 1 hour.

Drain the beans, cover with fresh water, and add the ham hock, garlic and bay leaves. Bring to a low simmer over medium heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the beans are tender but not mushy, 45 to 60 minutes. To test for doneness, use a large spoon to remove several beans and blow directly on them. If they’re done, a few quick puffs will pucker the skin, almost removing it.

Place a colander over a large bowl and strain the beans, reserving the cooking liquid. Remove the ham hock, place on a cutting board and let cool. When the ham hock is cool enough to handle, slice through the rind, peel off in a single layer and reserve. Remove any meat and coarsely chop, discarding the bone and tendon. Set aside.

Preheat an oven to 300ºF.

Rinse out the pot and place on the stovetop over medium heat. Pour in the vegetable oil and add the onions. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are slightly translucent and just tender, 5 to 7 minutes; do not allow them to brown.

To prepare the spice mix, in a bowl, stir together the molasses, brown sugar, ketchup, Worcestershire sauce, mustard, salt, cloves, cinnamon and black pepper. Add the spice mix to the pot with the onions, stirring well to incorporate, and bring to a simmer. Add the beans, 4 cups of the reserved cooking liquid, the ham hock meat and rind, and stir to incorporate. Bring to a simmer, then cover the pot and transfer to the oven. Bake until the beans are very tender, 3 to 4 hours. Remove and discard the bay leaves and ham hock rind. If there is too much liquid in the beans, strain them, reserving the liquid, and add it back into the pot in 1/2-cup increments to reach the desired consistency.

Increase the oven temperature to 350ºF.

To prepare the spoon bread topping, in a small bowl, stir together the cornmeal, the 1 1/2 tsp. salt, the sugar and cayenne pepper. In a saucepan over high heat, scald the milk. Reduce the heat to low and whisk in the cornmeal mixture. Switch from a whisk to a wooden spoon or rubber spatula and add the butter, stirring constantly until smooth, 8 to 10 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and stir with the spoon or spatula to incorporate the egg yolks and baking powder. In a bowl, using an electric mixer, beat the egg whites with a pinch of salt until soft peaks form, then fold into the cornmeal mixture.

Spoon the warm baked beans into a 9-inch square baking dish, spreading them evenly. Top with the spoon bread batter, leaving a 1/2-inch border uncovered around the edges. Place the baking dish on a foil-lined baking sheet. Transfer to the oven and bake, rotating the baking sheet 180 degrees halfway through the baking time, until the top of the spoon bread is golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, about 55 minutes. Serves 8 to 10.

Recipe courtesy of the Workshop Kitchen.