Tomato-Basil Cornbread

I don’t think I’ve ever had anyone tell me that they don’t like cornbread. I mean really, what’s not to like? At the same time, it’s not something you hear people raving about, either. Maybe it just needs a little “sprucing up”.

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Now, I know that there are people out there that really do take their cornbread seriously and that there are key regional differences in how folks say it’s “supposed to be” made. Much of the debate centers around whether sugar or wheat flour should be added or not. These ingredients became an issue due to changes in the type of corn used for cornmeal and how corn is now processed to make meal. These modifications came about in the early to mid 1900s and forced people to adjust their recipes to compensate for the difference in flavor and texture, often by adding the sugar and flour. Since I’m cooking in modern times and using what’s available to me in the grocery store (just like you, I’m sure), that means I have to adjust for the same reasons.

My childhood experiences with cornbread were pretty limited. It was often something that my mom would make as an accompaniment to a hot bowl of chili–pretty much the only way she likes to eat beans— and usually following the recipe on a box of cornmeal. Otherwise it was something I occasionally got to enjoy while eating at a certain restaurant that gained it’s fame from their pies (Marie Callender’s, by the way).

Personally, I often find that cornbread is too sweet and crumbly. It’s hard to enjoy something that breaks apart in your hand, making a mess all over the place, before you can even get a bite in your mouth. If you’ve ever looked at any of my muffin recipes, you’ll also know that I am prone to ranting just a little about how too often muffins have been turned into cupcakes in disguise. I feel the same way about many cornbread recipes, they seem to just be corn flavored cake. Not bad, but it could be better.

With this recipe I was aiming for only a hint of sweetness, a firm enough texture to hold up to having butter slathered on, a hefty dose of real corn flavor, plus a little extra sparkle just because I can. Hence the addition of the dried tomatoes and basil. I’ve probably offended people by doing this, but oh well. I’m the one eating it! Hopefully you’ll be willing to forgive me for tinkering with a classic staple in American cuisine. Hey, no one said you couldn’t make it the old way, too.

Some quick notes before you begin:

I designed this recipe using the typical type of cornmeal that is sold in most grocery stores. I know that there are now more options available that will impact both texture and flavor. I suggest still following the recipe and making adjustments to the ingredients as needed once you see how it turns out. Please feel free to comment below about your experience if you use a different type of cornmeal!

There are various bakeware forms you could use for this, or even a simple oven proof pan. Preheated cast iron pans are the traditional form, but any muffin pan will do!

I used frozen corn to add more flavor and texture to this recipe. Chances are good that canned corn will do, though the flavor might be altered.

I used home dried tomatoes that are not stored in oil. Oil packed tomatoes are perfectly fine, and in fact I think using some of the oil in place of the olive oil in the recipe will likely taste fantastic!

Tomato-Basil Cornbread Recipe

  • Difficulty: easier than getting agreement on the proper ingredients
  • Print

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 cup cornmeal (white or yellow)
  • 1 cup all purpose flour
  • 1 Tbsp. baking powder
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 3-4 Tbsp. granulated sugar (use for preferred level of sweetness)
  • 1/2 cup packed chopped dried tomatoes (cut into 1/2 inch size pieces)
  • 1 cup fresh or frozen corn, pureed
  • 1 1/2 tsp. dried basil

Directions

Preheat oven to 400 F. Lightly oil a 9 inch round cake pan, or an 8 x 8 inch square pan, or 18 standard sized muffin cups, or anything else similar in size.

Put all the dry ingredients (cornmeal through salt) in a bowl and whisk together to combine. Set bowl aside.

Puree the corn in a food processor or blender. You don’t need it completely smooth. Pulsing will produce the best results rather than leaving the processor on continuously.

In another bowl, beat the eggs, then beat in the oil. Add the milk and sugar and beat until combined. Add the remaining ingredients, including the corn, and stir together until everything is incorporated.

Add the wet ingredients to the dry and mix together just until everything is combined. You don’t want to over mix or your cornbread will be too tough. Spoon the mixture into the prepared pan, filling muffin cups about 2/3 to 3/4 full.

Bake muffins for 15 to 18 minutes, cake pans for 20 to 25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the middle comes away clean. Allow to cool for 5 minutes before removing from the pan. Tastes quite lovely with a hefty slab of butter or a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil! Enjoy!

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