Laurie Colwin: Cornbread and Prosciutto Stuffing (and Giveaway)

Laurie Colwin: Prosciutto and Cornbread Stuffing

Let’s play a drinking game: Find a restaurant or cookbook review and take a shot every time these words come up: delicious, exquisite, velvety (for soups), pillowy (for gnocchi), complex, simple, seasonal. Drunk yet? Certain food words and phrases get more than their fair share of column space—so much so that, despite being guilty many times over, I still cringe when another squash soup is described as “autumn in a bowl.”

That’s why, although I’m usually focused on food in fiction (and the authors who ate it), I have a special respect for those writers who make food their lifelong subject. It’s easy to polish the perfect dinner party scene in a novel when there’s only one to write. But describing dish after dish, new “modern American small plates restaurant” after restaurant, and turning each into its own reason for being? That’s what separates the laymen from the legends. For many, that legend is M.F.K Fischer. For me, it’s Laurie Colwin.

A fiction writer herself (of both short stories and novels), Colwin’s essays on food for Gourmet are what gained her celeb status—and a passionately devoted readership. After her early death at 48, the magazine received hundreds of letters expressing their grief. When she took over as editor, Ruth Reichl remembered, “Every writer that came in said that he or she wanted to be the next Laurie Colwin.”

Colwin’s one-liners made her the Dorothy Parker of food (“Grilling is like sunbathing. Everyone knows it is bad for you but no one ever stops doing it.”) She would never call a soup velvety; instead, she’d describe the desultory chive sitting in it. But more than her wit, readers loved Laurie for ‘fessing up to all our guiltiest kitchen thoughts, without fear or shame. After throwing dozens of dinner parties in her tiny Manhattan apartment, she’d been there: from cooking five courses on a hot pot to secretly wishing your dinner guests shut up and just ate meat already. Every unglamorous food frustration you’ve had? Laurie understood.

Home Cooking, a collection of Colwin’s essays, was released in digital form for the first time this month and I’ve been revisiting them as preparation for the kind of big dinner that always comes this time of year. (Spoiler: I have a copy to give away!) As with any contemporary book of food essays, there are recipes, and they’re simple, seasonal and (yes, I’m saying it) delicious.

But it’s the moral support, the tableside pep talk, that makes it a kitchen essential. “No one who cooks cooks alone. Even at her most solitary, a cook in the kitchen is surrounded by generations of cooks past, the advice and menus of cooks present.” Colwin is one of those kitchen guardian angels, peering over your shoulder when your sauce splits or your soufflé falls flat, telling you not to worry—and gently reminding you that, in a pinch, there’s always takeout.Laurie Colwin: Cornbread Prosciutto Stuffing Recipecolwin5 colwin3

Like her writing, Colwin’s cooking is idiosyncratic; there’s no mistaking her taste. Everything could be made better, her recipes suggest, with some chopped up scallion and dill. Some dishes are just plain perplexing; she describes a lemon tart as looking like “a baked hat” and tasting like “lemon-flavored bacon fat” … yet she ate most of it. But maybe most baffling is her dislike of stuffing—baffling, that is, to everyone but me.

For the first 20 years of my life, stuffing was the unloved stepchild of the Thanksgiving table. The turkey soaked up all the time and attention on the big day, and sides and desserts were painstakingly selected weeks in advance. But stuffing preparation took virtually no time or effort: My dad took a bag of stuffing mix and plopped it in the microwave, where it congealed into a bread mass that was paradoxically both soggy and hard. It sat awkwardly on the table, among a mosaic of superior dishes, as an offering to some tradition we didn’t really understand.

Understandably, I didn’t begin to love stuffing until I went to other families’ Thanksgivings and saw the myriad variations on a beloved theme: chestnuts and apples in New York, rice dressing and sausage in New Orleans. Colwin was eventually convinced too, and with this recipe I can see why. It’s not fussy; you can imagine her making it on her two-burner stovetop. But it feels just right—and in classic Laurie style, you’re allowed to take shortcuts, with no shame.

GIVEAWAY: I have a digital copy of Home Cooking from Open Road to give away! Enter in the comments and I’ll announce a winner on December 8. 

(from Home Cooking by Laurie Colwin, Courtesy of the Colwin estate)

turkey giblets and neck (or chicken scraps and bones for stock)
1 stick unsalted butter
2 yellow onions, diced
1 leek, whites and greens, diced
1 garlic clove
8 oz prosciutto, diced
1 bunch Italian flat-leaf parsley
16 ounces cornbread (or cornbread stuffing mix)
1 scallion

1. Make a rich stock out of the giblets, wing tips and neck (if you can stand not to roast it) of the turkey, along with some chicken parts and an onion. Let simmer for several hours.

2. Melt a stick of butter in a large saucepan and add two diced medium-sized yellow onions, one leek (white and tender green part) also diced, one fat clove of garlic, minced. Wilt these in the butter.

3. Add 1/2 pound of diced prosciutto (for people who do not eat pork products, dried funghi porcini and toasted pecans make an admirable substitute) and saute briefly.

4. Slowly add the contents of two bags of cornmeal stuffing if you are lazy or the equivalent amount (about sixteen ounces) of fresh cornmeal stuffing if you are not, fresh ground black pepper to taste, a chopped scallion and a chopped-up head of Italian parsley, and saute until the bread is coated with the butter.

5. Moisten with broth until fluffy but not wet. This is enough for a seventeen-pound turkey with some left over to cook in a pot as a side dish.

28 thoughts on “Laurie Colwin: Cornbread and Prosciutto Stuffing (and Giveaway)

  1. I was reading your post as a welcome break in between my studies (have a paper to write tomorrow morning) and the irony of ‘working it’ for a comment clever and wise enough to win the giveaway struck me. So I am doing the honest (and smart-ass) thing. a. This is the first time I am hearing of her writing. And I am glad I just did. b. Your posts have been like comfort food to me: simple enough to soothe, yet rich enough to satisfy. c. Being a poor writer and a student (and the first to comment) I would very much like a free e-copy of the book please.

    p.s.: As a quid pro quo I can email you a compilation of writings of my favourite food writer from India. http://blogs.economictimes.indiatimes.com/onmyplate/

  2. How appropriate to have such a great recipe so close to Thanksgiving! I am living in the South for the first time and was going to make cornbread stuffing! I am definitely using this recipe now! I look forward to your posts and can’t wait to read what you have posted, who you are writing about, the recipe, and what the author said about food! I was not disappointed this morning! Thank you for the great post on Laurie Colwin. I had heard of her, but haven’t read her works, she sounds like she would be a writer after my own heart (no holds barred but approachable, especially when it comes to food! I would love to win an e- copy of the “Home Cooking from Open Road.” Thank you so much!
    Happy Thanksgiving!

  3. Betsy thomas

    Adore the Colwin! Am so happy to see her talents showcased here! Her novels are all infused with great food imagery, but it is her food essays that I read for coziness on cloudy and dark days. Thanks for introducing her to others on your wonderful site!

  4. I have this book on my wishlist — I think she may be a kindred spirit 🙂 It would be delightful to win a copy from another who I like to think a kindred spirit — you! I also never liked stuffing — my grandmother’s was so bland — unseasoned bread with canned chicken stock on it basically. But now it’s my favorite part of Thanksgiving 🙂 I must try this prosciutto and cornbread variation.

  5. WillRevenge

    Sometimes, if one must, ordering takeout and improving it with one’s own touches (usually more vegetables) counts as “cooking.” There are such days.

  6. Mary Catherine Hanley

    My favorite Laurie Colwin recommendation was the chocolate cake in a favorite children’s book: Happy Winter by Karen Gunderschiemer.

  7. Beth Anne Brink-Cox

    Laurie felt like a personal friend and I still miss her terribly. I would love to have this book; reading her is more comforting than any comfort food.

  8. Cindy G.

    Growing up with a mom who insisted the stuffing had to be in the turkey to keep it moist, I had never experienced anything else until my brother got married and they had us over for Thanksgiving. My sister-in-law’s family cooks the stuffing separately and cooks up three versions (oyster, chestnut, and Grandma’s). Once I gave them a try, I decided I liked them quite a bit (oyster dressing is my favorite!). My mom was not so quick to convert, and it led to an event that will not soon be forgotten: My mom volunteered to bring the turkey but was staying at my apartment the night before. Her method of cooking involved turning up the oven temp to 450 degrees to sear the turkey, and then lower the temp and cook it slowly overnight. When we got up on Thanksgiving morning and opened the oven, we were shocked to discover that every drop of moisture had cooked out of the turkey and the dehydrated carcass was sitting in a pool of fat. My mother burst into tears, claiming that she had ruined Thanksgiving. A quick call to my brother to explain the situation, and a frantic hour of calling around town led to them finding 2 fresh turkeys. They bought one of them, and Thanksgiving was saved. And, it turned out that the temperature regulator on my oven was broken and the turkey had cooked overnight at 450 degrees, so it wasn’t really my mom’s fault. But, every year since, some mention of the flattened turkey comes up, and fortunately, even my mom can laugh about it now.

  9. I was raised on bread stuffing & loved it, but my mom didn’t use cornbread. Your recipe sounds tasty & I will have to give it a try. I have not read much of Laurie Colwin, but my interest has been piqued over the last year or so, and would very much like to do so. That being said, I would love to win your e-book! Thanks for sharing!

  10. Lovely post. No need to enter me in the contest, because I already own the book (and love it). She first inspired me to bake a gingerbread cake and serve it with raspberry jam and whipping cream. Divine.

  11. hng23

    I still own my original paperback copies of Home Cooking & More Home Cooking (as well as her novels ). Making a pot of tea, lighting some candles & settling down in a cozy throw with any one of her books is a Good Thing To Do, in the deep of winter.

  12. Simply inspiring and a good challenge to oneself. I was never extremely fond of turkey or stuffing but after tasting a delicious, exquisite, simple, seasonal etc. scrumptious & yummy one with a sausage, sage, bread & apple stuffing, I am reformed. Laurie Colwin’s sounds even better and I am so looking forward to try it with a goose. As to her books, thanks for making my birthday & Christmas list this much longer and even more anticipated. Hicks (great drinking game, absolutely guilty of churning out those words myself a great deal and pledge betterment), Nicole xx

  13. I have both of her cookbooks and read them every few years, cover to cover. They remind me of when I was young, and washing dishes in the bathtub sounded like the most romantic thing ever, if your tiny apartment was in New York City. I especially enjoy her chapters on kitchen disasters, of which she had her share.

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  15. Have been making LC’s cornbread proscuitto dressing (sometimes with porcini) for years and when I suggested we do away with dressing this Thanksgiving, I was met with looks of horror. So I relented. I had to admit it was perfect with boned and rolled turkey breast from the Florence Meat Market, stuffed with garlic, rosemary, black pepper and wrapped in proscuitto. Now, next year….

  16. witloof

    Oh, how I love those books, and everything else that Laurie wrote. In fact I pulled them off the shelf yesterday to look for her recipe for broccoli pasta sauce and got instantly swept down the rabbit hole for a couple of hours. Thanks! I miss her very much, so what a lovely surprise to find this post.

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