The Taste of Summer: Walking the Walk
A swoon-worthy Southern gent shares his secrets
written by Colleen Ann McNally
photos courtesy of Beckmy Luigart-Stayner; Ian Bagwell/Oxmoor House
If you haven’t heard about Matt Moore yet, I’m happy to change that. When we spoke, he had just returned to his home in Nashville from a whirlwind trip to New York for appearances on “Fox and Friends” and VH1. Yet the multi-talented Moore aptly answered my questions about his new cookbook “A Southern Gentleman’s Kitchen: Adventures in Cooking, Eating and Living in the New South” — encore to “Have Her Over For Dinner” — with the ease of a gracious host.
Even before we chatted, I felt like I knew him from ﬂipping through the book. His spin on more than 150 recipes shared from family and friends are mixed alongside stories that pay homage to days of playing football at Parkview High School, jumping off the old Jones Bridge and performing live music in Athens while attending school at the University of Georgia. Just like Virginia Willis, it was in college that Moore realized his aptitude for entertaining extended beyond those of friends who were accustomed to the convenience of take-out and frozen meals.
“I was fortunate to grow up in a family where the family meal was prepared pretty much seven days a week by my Mama,” Moore said. “For me, learning how to cook was a very natural part of growing up and I was expected to help out in the kitchen.”
With an increase in popular shows like “Top Chef” or “Chopped” touting high-end cuisine and high entertainment value, Moore felt that some people — particularly those who never learned to boil water — were intimidated and getting left out of the joy. The goal of his friendly and encouraging approach is to get more people in the kitchen by sharing stories of his own.
As for classic Southern ingredients that fill his pantry, Moore likes to keep it simple. “Obviously butter,” Moore laughed before listing off basics like salt, pepper, olive oil – especially the variation from South Georgia farms that he calls “pretty amazing stuff” – and whatever is fresh and in season. He also recommends keeping potted plants of herbs, like chives, basil and rosemary on hand.
He can’t stand when other recipes titled the “Perfect Lasagna” or “Quintessential Mac and Cheese” call for 20 different ingredients, and by the time someone who doesn’t know a lot about cooking (or keeps a prepared pantry) goes to the store to buy all that, they’ve made an $18 meal they likely won’t go through the effort of repeating. “I’m very conscious to try and strip things down to the bare essentials and teach folks that they don’t have to have a fully stocked kitchen to pull off some amazing meals,” he emphasized. Warm weather entertaining is a great place to start.
“When I think summer, I think lighter,” Moore said. “Dishes that all have nice pops of color and are sweet and savory.” His go-to recipes include roasted Gulf shrimp with orzo pasta, grilled pork chops and the Peach State native’s twist on the Italian classic, caprese salad, all included in a “Southern Gentleman’s Kitchen.”
Also like Willis, Moore’s book is full of happy images that would make a great addition to any coffee table, but his hope is that the pages become stained, tattered and dog-eared with much use.
“I hope folks will use the book as a template to create their own memories,” Moore added.
Bonus points for playing the Allman Brothers “Eat a Peach” album, covering the table with a simple tablecloth and fresh flowers, serving family style and having a nice drink on hand because, of course, Moore’s book has cocktail recipes too. His Mama must be proud.
Georgia Peach Caprese Salad + Balsamic Reduction
Makes 8 to serve 4
¾ cup aged balsamic vinegar
4 fresh, ripe peaches, cut into 1/4inch slices (about 1 ½ pound or 2 ½ cups sliced)
12 ounces fresh mozzarella cheese, cut into ¼-inch slices
¼ cup loosely packed fresh basil leaves
Heat a small saucepan over medium heat 1 minute or until hot. Add vinegar, bring to a simmer and cook 5 minutes or until vinegar is reduced to ¼ cup and coats the back of a spoon. Remove from heat. (Vinegar can be prepared up to 1 day ahead.) Alternate peach and mozzarella slices on a large serving platter. Stack basil leaves, and roll up tightly beginning at 1 long side; cut basil crosswise into thin strips or, if using small leaves, leave whole. Arrange basil over peach and mozzarella slices. Drizzle desired amount of reduced balsamic vinegar over salad, reserving remaining balsamic vinegar for another use; refrigerate in an airtight container up to 1 week. Serve salad immediately.
Bone-In Pork Chops + Sweet Heat Peaches
1 tablespoon light brown sugar
1½ teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon chili powder
½ teaspoon ground cumin
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
4 (8-ounce) bone-in center-cut pork chops (about 1-inch thick)
2 tablespoon unsalted butter
divided 2 ripe peaches, peeled and coarsely chopped (2 cups)
½ fresh jalapeño pepper, very thinly sliced
Combine first 5 ingredients in a small bowl until blended. Liberally sprinkle both sides of pork chops with brown sugar mixture. Place a 12-inch cast-iron skillet over medium heat 1 minute or until hot; melt 1 tablespoon butter in hot skillet. Add peaches to skillet, and cook, without stirring, 5 minutes or until peaches are lightly browned and caramelized. Transfer peaches to a plate. Increase heat to medium-high, and melt remaining 1 tablespoon butter in skillet. Add chops to skillet, and cook, undisturbed, 4 minutes. Reduce heat to medium, turn chops over, and return peaches to skillet. Cook 5 more minutes or a meat thermometer inserted into thickest portion of chops registers 145 degrees. Remove skillet from heat, and sprinkle with thinly sliced jalapeño pepper. Serve immediately.
Roasted Gulf Shrimp + Orzo Pasta Salad
1½ cups uncooked orzo pasta
1 pound unpeeled, medium-size raw Gulf shrimp
6 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil, divided
¼ cup finely diced red onion
½ cup seeded, finely diced cucumber
1 cup small cherry tomatoes, cut in half
¼ cup crumbled feta cheese
1 teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
¼ cup finely chopped fresh parsley
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Cook orzo in a large saucepan in boiling salted water to cover over high heat 6-7 minutes or until al dente. Drain and cool to room temperature. Peel shrimp; devein, if desired. Place shrimp in a single layer in a shallow baking pan, and drizzle with 2 tablespoon oil. Bake at 400 degrees for 6 minutes or until shrimp turns pink and opaque. Remove from oven; cool to room temperature. Combine orzo, shrimp, remaining 4 tablespoon olive oil, onion, and remaining ingredients in a large bowl, toss gently until thoroughly blended. Serve immediately, or cover and chill until ready to serve.
*Reduced-sodium chicken broth may be substituted.
Gent’s Tips: If you have fresh green peas, by all means use them! Just blanch them in some hot boiling water for a minute or so, and run them under cold water until completely cooled, and then follow the recipe above.
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