Thursday, August 26, 2010

Cheesy Scalloped Okra

Well, kittens, it's week #14 of my CSA share, and I just hit freshness fatigue. Not that I don't luvvv the veg, but sometimes I can't face opening the fridge -- all those greens waggling their tongues. To add to my growing guilt, I inherited some second-hand okra this week from my friend Josephine, who also confessed to CSA slump. She showed up at a party with a bag of okra, and next thing I knew it was coming home with me. 

And so, last night, I had an okra nightcap. I got home late, popped a can of Yuengling, dragged out the collards, started frying yellow zucchini, and then I trolled the Net for okra recipes. Most people I know are okra-averse because this vegetable releases a mucousy film when you cook it. I've always found okra intriguing -- the slime is a bit sci-fi, but if you watch a little "Dr. Who" while you're cooking, you can shrug it off.

Okra is related to the hibiscus, and the edible part is actually the fruit of this beautiful flowering plant. I grew it last summer. Stunning to see: okra rises out of the soil like a crown of thorns, with huge yellow blossoms and a ring of pointy pods. When you cut them into rounds, they make these lovely pinwheels. 
I like to grill okra. Just toss it in sesame oil, skewer it, and let it crispen over the coals. Last night, though, I read a recipe for scalloped okra, and I knew I had to go casserole. I made a few substitutions, and oh mama, I found myself with a new fave hot dish. Cheese and okra? I know, it takes a little getting used to if you've thought of okra as a gumbo-only ingredient. But trust me, this dish tastes perversely like mac'n cheese. You could easily serve it to okra haters and they'd never know.

With a side of vinegary collards and some fried zucchini, my okra nightcap rounded out one of the best CSA meals I've ever made. I'm already scheming to make it again -- for Thansgiving, peut-etre? As for cheese, I used some leftover Grana Padano, which added a luxe sweetness that I loved, but you could also use a good Parm or cheddar.

Cheesy Scalloped Okra

2 cups chopped okra
1 can corn 
4 Tablespoons butter
1 cup milk, at room temperature
2 Tablespoons flour
1.5 cups Grana Padano or Parmesan
1 cup breadcrumbs 
Fresh chives, chopped (or scallions)
Salt & pep

Heat 2 Tablespoons of butter in a skillet and fry the okra rounds on medium heat until the edges begin to brown. Then, butter a small casserole dish and layer the corn and okra, sprinkling salt and pepper after each layer.  

In a saucepan, melt the rest of the butter over low heat. Whisk in the 2 Tablespoons of flour, and add the milk in dribs and drabs. Don't add too much milk at once or it will get clumpy. This takes a steady hand, lots of stirring. When the mixture begins to thicken, sprinkle in the cheese. 

Pour the sauce over the layered corn and okra, top the mess with breadcrumbs, and bake at 350 degrees for about 40 minutes -- until the edges bubble and the breadcrumbs brown. Garnish avec chives or chopped parsley.

Additions: This recipe would also be good if you added sauteed onions or mushrooms. 


  1. i love the second pic !

    madame fromage-- i was just talking to amy strauss (apples and cheese, please), and she reminded me that you are teaching a food writing class. i was just saying how i'd love to take one. i guess they are becoming a bit more popular. but i live about 45 minutes to an hour away, and i work several jobs. so that's a no-go on being able to take a philly-like class. but still, i love the idea of it. if you know of any food writing classes going on closer to me, please let me know ! i'll have to skim around on the web for sightings or possibilities at any local colleges or institutions. the ones closest to me are ursinus college, alveria university (formerly college), and i forget what else. hm.

    a few weeks ago, amy and i were talking about our love of cheese, and i said something about how it didn't make sense in my brain to not like cheese, for those who don't. she said something about how it didn't quite seem human to not like cheese. ha. either way, i am all about spreading the cheese love. cheese is happiness at the mouth.

  2. Awww, thanks for the comment, harlot. I thought your last sentence read "Cheese is the happiest month," which I loved. So, I wish I could tell you more about food writing classes. Maybe I'll post my syllabus when it's ready, and if you want to follow along with some of the readings you could. My students essentially do 4 assignments:

    1. they write a magazine-style profile of a local vendor or food producer
    2. they write a multi-part essay about a single ingredient
    3. they study local food critics and review a restaurant
    4. they develop a final project (blog, memoir, manifesto, etc.)

    Along the way, they also have to keep a log of what they eat and participate in a 72-hour change of diet. I taught the class last year, and it was great fun. A couple students started amazing food blogs that are still going. Anyway, I'll keep my eye out for other classes.

    Do stay in touch, peach.