I know people who eat spoon bread with butter, as if it were plain cornbread, which it is not. It's rich a custardy breadlike food eaten the South. I first had it at the Hotel Roanoke, in Roanoke, Va., as a kid, and never forgot it. This, however, is spoonbread as I imagine Italians might make it if they lived in the South. I used Bob's but I'd rather have Anson Mills fine ground, because I like the finer texture of softer white cornmeal, which is what spoon bread is all about, but it still has the nice corny polenta flavor. I used Andrew Carmellini's Urban Italian as my guide in cooking the polenta (although he cooks his for TWO hours, and is compulsive about clean), then took it from there. You can cook these in a casserole, but don't do it in a large shallow one. The spoon bread should be puffed and browned at the edges but slumped in the middle. The pancetta and parmesan layer gets broiled at the end to ramp up the flavor. —EmilyNunn
polenta, preferably fine mill
water (more if needed)
freshly ground black pepper
1 1/2 cups
Parmigiano Reggiano, divided
1 1/2 ounces
thinly sliced proscuitto (about 3 pieces), cut crosswise into 1/2 inch ribbons
Preheat oven to 400. In a large heavy saucepan, combine water, salt, pepper, thyme; bring to boil and let simmer for 2 minutes. Bring it back to a boil and slowly add the polenta, whisking constantly, until you have a smooth porridge. Stir in 1 cup of the buttermilk, and continue to cook over medium heat, for 2 more minutes. Remove the thyme; reduce heat to low and continue to cook, whisking occasionally, for 35 minutes. It should bubble like a tar pit. If it gets too thick, stir in hot water as necessary. You want it to remain very thick, however.
Remove polenta from heat and let cool slightly. Stir in remaining half cup of buttermilk, butter, and 1 cup of the Parm. Beat the egg yolks; stir into mixture.
Meanwhile, beat egg whites in a separate bowl, until soft peaks form. Fold a spoonful of the egg whites into the polenta mixture; sprinkle baking powder into polenta mixture and mix well by hand. Fold in remaining egg whites.
Spoon mixture (about one cup) into prepared 1 1/3 cup ramekins or souffle dishes. Bake for 25 minutes. Once the spoon breads have puffed and browned, sprinkle with remaining cheese and the prosciutto shreds. Turn on broiler and let the cheese brown and the prosciutto crisp. Let cool slightly before serving.