The farmers' market up the street from my house just started again. It takes place one night a week, now through early fall. Last week a stroll through the twenty-some booths revealed a bounty of fava beans, strawberries, local micro-climate honeys, pea shoots, mandarins, king trumpet and lion's mane mushrooms, artichokes, and English peas. In the midst of all this, I stumbled on a farm I'm particularly excited about, Fifth Crow Farm - new to me. They were selling organic wheat berries, heirloom popcorn, farm fresh eggs and leeks. I picked up a couple bags heirloom Sonora whole wheat pastry flour (grown at neighboring Pie Ranch), and set them on my kitchen counter when I got home. I wasn't entirely sure how I wanted to use it at the time. This flour is a bit coarser than the pastry flour I typically use, flecked with tiny hints of brown and gold.
If I leave something in my field of vision for long enough, ideas start to percolate. I had a the flour sitting on the counter top, and a good amount of leftover cooked quinoa in my refrigerator at the time. It occurred to me to attempt some sort of rustic quinoa skillet bread. A relatively simple idea that actually took a couple tries to get right. My first attempt was terrible, and by that I mean, not at all what I had in mind. It was flat, too dense, ugly, and on and on. But the second go-around more than made up for my original misstep.
Back at the drawing board (after my initial failure), I kept looking at the flecks of germ and bran in my new flour, which triggered thoughts of cornmeal. One of my favorite recipes in SNC is the quinoa and corn flour crepes. And one of my favorite cornmeal recipes of the past year is Marion Cunningham's Custard-Filled Cornbread. My neighbor brought it to a Halloween potluck (to much fanfare), and it occurred to me it was the same cornbread Molly writes about in A Homemade Life. Everyone in my family now loves this cornbread, and it has shown up at nearly every family gathering since its debut at Thanksgiving. It is one of those recipes, so spot-on, I thought I'd never change it, tweak it, or make it any other way. There was no need. Keep it simple, leave it alone.
But I thought, maybe, if I took the general approach for the Custard Cornbread and introduced a cast-iron skillet and a few of the other ingredients I had on had, it might make for something unique and special in it's own way. And wow, did it ever work out. I hope you'll agree, the results are impressive - a rustic, minimally structured, custard-topped, crusty-edged, herb-scented corn-quinoa skillet bread. Enough for a small crowd, each piece is dense and heavy, rich with ribbons of varying texture. Let me know if you try it out - it's perfect for picnics, potlucks, family meals and the like!
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Quinoa Skillet Bread
For this recipe I use Bob's Red Mill Coarse Grind Cornmeal. If you click on the image it will zoom in and you can see what it's like - look for something comparable. As I mentioned in the main post, I used a local whole wheat pastry flour here. But I suspect any whole wheat pastry flour will work, and spelt flour might be an interesting alternative as well. I used a dried Sardinian mixed herb blend, but I Herbes de Provence would be great too. If you don't have an oven-proof skillet you can use a 9x9 inch glass baking dish, or equivalent.
butter to grease pan, about 1 tablespoon
1 cup / 4 oz / 115g whole wheat pastry flour
3/4 cup / 4 oz / 115 g yellow cornmeal (coarse)
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon dried mixed herbs (optional)
2 large eggs
1 1/2 cups / 7 oz / 200 g cooked quinoa, room temperature*
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, barely melted and cooled a bit
3 tablespoons natural cane sugar (or brown sugar)
3/4 teaspoon fine grain sea salt
2 cups / 475 ml milk
1 1/2 tablespoons white or white wine vinegar
1 cup / 240 ml heavy cream
Preheat the oven to 350F / 180 C degrees and place a rack in the top third. Butter a 10-inch oven-proof skillet (or equivalent baking dish). I used a cast-iron pan with 2-inch deep sides. Roughly ten minutes before you are ready to bake the skillet bread, while you are mixing the batter, place the skillet in the hot oven.
In a large bowl stir together the flour, cornmeal, baking powder, baking soda, and dried herbs.
In a separate bowl, beat the eggs, quinoa, and melted butter until well-blended. Add the sugar, salt, milk and vinegar and stir again. Then add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and stir just until the batter comes together. It will seem very thin, don't worry.
Pour the batter into the heated skillet. Pour the heavy cream into the center of the batter. Have faith, and do not stir. Carefully place in the oven and check after 45 minutes, the skillet bread is done when the top becomes lightly browned and the center just set. Somewhere between 45-60 minutes typically. I like to finish things up with a few seconds under the broiler to brown the top nicely. You can serve this I like this warm or at room temperature, sliced in a grid, sprinkled with a touch more salt (if needed).
Makes one 10 1/2 skillet.
*To cook a sizable pot of quinoa: Combine 2 cups / 12 oz / 340 g of
well-rinsed (dried) quinoa with 3 cups / 700 ml water and 1/2 teaspoon
fine grain sea salt in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil, cover,
reduce heat and simmer for 25 - 30 minutes or until quinoa is tender
and you can see the little quinoa curliques. Fluff with a fork.
Prep time: 10 minutes