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Jul 27, 2010 04:59 PM

What is the "Southern" equivalent of Italian-American "Baked Ziti"? Potato Salad?

We've had an interesting discussion of the prevalence of the dish "baked ziti" in the culture of Italian-Americans, predominantly in the east or northeastern U.S.

What is the Southern equivalent of the Italian-American standard "baked ziti," namely "so widespread a dish that you'll find it at virtually every family, church or social gathering in the South"?

I'm trying to figure out what that dish might be -- and not in terms of ingredients, but the prevalence of the dish. Originally, I was thinking of identifying the iconic "baked" dish, but I couldn't think of one single baked dish that is ubiquitous. So, I'm seeking the dish (baked or not) that is a cultural "marker" of social gatherings -- when you say to yourself, "this dish is everywhere I go" -- in the South. Maybe it is potato salad? Maybe it IS potato salad.

Your thoughts?

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    1. re: chefj

      macaroni and cheese is not really that pervasive, in my experience -- at least not home-made. and i don't personally know of people who would take kraft mac and cheese to a gathering.

      come to think of it, i am not being able to identify many "cheesy" southern dishes (esp. with "pasta."). the only pasta used in the south traditionally has been elbow macaroni -- and more often than not, that would be used in a soup, or the mac n cheese, or with some tomato gravy. rice is certainly much more pervasive. maybe i'm just having a mind block about "cheesy" dishes. there is pimento cheese, but i really wouldn't consider that a "dish."

    2. I don't know: after my father in law's funeral in exurban Atlanta some years ago, family callers brought over a lineup of "covered dishes", many of them lime jello salads with mayonnaise enhancements. Mac and cheese of course, too.

      25 Replies
      1. re: bob96

        There are so many things that you can find at almost every function in the "South" not only Jello molds but biscuits, Buttermilk or Chess pie, Fried chicken, Marinated Tomatoes and the list goes on. I was riffing off the pasta, but thinking more about the "baked" Cobbler would fit the bill from Maryland to Texas.

        1. re: chefj

          i haven't seen a jello mold in decades. biscuits are hardly at every function. nor is fried chicken, or tomatoes out of season. chess pie is hardly ever made anymore. cobblers aren't at every function, either.

          chefj, i'm sorry, but this list sounds like someone's caricature.

          maybe i'm wrong on fried chicken. i'm willing to be persuaded -- but i still think potato salad is more pervasive. (and y'all in the rest of the country would be shocked to learn that at most gatherings where fried chicken is a part of the line-up, it is likely to be from KFC.).

            1. re: atlantanative

              hmmm, squash casserole. that's a contender -- esp. if we stick to "baked" dishes.

              1. re: alkapal

                I love squash casserole and just fixed it a couple of days ago but no. Only in season and, of course, it has to be hot. I'm with you on potato salad, I guess. Maybe why it's the last thing I choose to eat. Too many gallons of it in my formative years.

            2. re: alkapal

              Con tutto rispetto, as soon as you ask for a "standard" anything, you're preparing for caricatures, since it becomes very difficult to generalize without them. Growing up in Italian Brooklyn, baked ziti was for us strictly a family dish, and only in winer, and maybe on a holiday Sunday. Social functions involving more than the family usually meant cold plates, too: salami, cheese, marinated salads, the classic antipasto table. But strange thing: at least in our nabe, Italians kept home cooked food within the family, and in my experience at least spent relatively little time eating in social gatherings that were not weddings, baptisms, or confirmations. Otherwise, food was usually catered in, even if only platters of cold cuts and salads or cookies and pastry. For what it's worth. Those lime jello dishes were indeed decades ago, in 1991.

              1. re: bob96

                molds. jello molds. i haven't seen jello molds in years.

                i'm not expecting caricature from actual southerners.

                1. re: bob96

                  my family was also like this. gatherings were an occasion for deli meats/etc. since so many social functions involved some sort of family, the cooking has to stop somewhere. no one was going to cook for extended-extended family.

                  1. re: bob96

                    the concept was not mine..... check the original post and its links...... that's where the baked zitii thing came up.

                    i'm working on identifying the southern equivalent.

                    garden & gun magazine is having a "southern food brackets" decision... for fun right now.

                  2. re: alkapal

                    As a Southern Belle, I make chess pie often. And I am ashamed to say I make jello based salads every now and then. Potato salad rules. KFC as a KY girl we ate it when it was wonderful. So we keep buying it.

                    1. re: Janet

                      i love chess pie. you have a lucky family! ;-).

                      (my background: born and reared in s.w. -- (gulf coast) -- florida, fort myers, where most of my immediate family still resides. mom was from marianna in the panhandle, relatives in atlanta, ga. and near and far in georgia nowadays, colonial heights, va., dothan, ala., tallahassee, fl., charleston, s.c., ocala, fl.. pensacola, fl.). mom's dad was from oklahoma. mom's mom was a native floridian, too. my dad was born in illinois, but his family moved to florida in the 1920's.

                      1. re: alkapal

                        I had chess pie once and it was just wonderful. It struck me as being like a pecan pie only without the pecans- any pie bakers out there to enlighten me?

                        1. re: EWSflash

                          i'd say it is more like a custard pie, not like a pecan pie, which is heavy on the corn syrup. it is sweet, though, which *is* like pecan pie. there is a more jelled (for lack of a better term) texture than the custard pie, though -- which i guess could be considered "like" pecan pie's texture. but the flavor isn't the same..

                          i don't think wiki is right that it is prepared like a pecan pie, without the pecans -- not the ones i've had. that wording is a little "squishy" too; what does it mean by saying it is "prepared like"? many pies are prepared "like" that, but that doesn't necessarily make them similar in flavor and texture.

                          this reminder of yours, EWSflash, made me look up a nice little lemon chess pie recipe -- perfect because i need to use up some lemons. in fact, i'm not even going to make a "pie," but use little custard cups.

                          1. re: alkapal

                            You're right, it more custardy, but I love the crust with it. I'm pretty sure the pie has some cornmeal in it, and some recipes call for buttermilk. Your link looks like a good one, but it's not what I remember my grandmother baking. Have you tried it yet?

                            1. re: bayoucook

                              more like this one, and others I've seen that use buttermilk in the place of evap + vinegar - does this look familiar?


                              1. re: bayoucook

                                Have never made anything of this sort even though I've read about it since forever, must make.

                        2. re: alkapal

                          I moved here in 1970, thought I was almost a native.

                      2. re: alkapal

                        Sounds like a church picnic to me.
                        Potato salad is common all over the country nothing particularity southern about it.
                        You bring KFC to a social function? In the South? There would be lots of tongue wagging in my experience.

                        1. re: chefj

                          I've heard that the mayo/mustard, egg, potato salad is the southern potato salad and they others like honey mustard red potato salad(no egg) or potato salads that don't use mayo come from else where.

                          1. re: Sandwich_Sister

                            I do not think so. The only Mayo-less salads i know of hail from Europe. hard boiled Eggs and mustard are fairly typical ingredients all over the US.

                          2. re: chefj

                            I'm a preacher's kid from Oklahoma who has been to more church dinners than I can count, and of course KFC shows up at nearly every one. It's always brought by the young bachelors who would induce more tongue wagging if they brought something they made themselves.

                            1. re: JonParker

                              I can tell you that in rural Virginia and Maryland that Bachelors would not be bringing food.
                              KFC would have to come from a long way away and would not be received well.
                              People made things they were proud of and wanted to share(show off) to the community.

                              1. re: chefj

                                In my experience there were plenty of cooks who pulled the stops out for a potluck. But in the cities (some of them small, but cities nonetheless) where I grew up, there was almost always a bucket of the Colonel's finest, too. Tongues might have wagged a bit, but the chicken got eaten nevertheless...

                                  1. re: alanbarnes

                                    Been to church potlucks where the fare of the Colonel
                                    was arranged, to save space, in tight colonnade.

                                    And sometimes the recognized good of his coleslaw,
                                    but churchmarms ne'er dared bring his bad mashed potatoes.

                                    Though methinks that sometimes they sneaked in his gravy.

                                    And as answer to OP's query of American Ziti,
                                    It lies in the memory of each diner's soul
                                    Of soft summer weekends where we gathered and ate..
                                    many choices, each to all
                                    of the quintessential definitive American casserole.

                                    There's good things about the sauced cheesy Ziti
                                    but my American dish is based upon broccoli.

                                    Of course my confession of broccoli obsession
                                    Is supported by act of our Pres. Thomas Jefferson
                                    and his initial import of broccoli from Italy
                                    in his search for the finest agrarian ingredients
                                    so that our casseroles could compete with the Ziti.

                                    That said, if you want watch my mind warble,
                                    just mention the beauty of succotash.

                                    But it still would align with agrarian Jefferson,
                                    who grew not just broccoli
                                    but also lima beans and corn.

                      3. Fried chicken, especially if pan fried.

                        Yes, potato salad and jello molds and variations on mac and cheese also are popular, but you are just as likely to find them at a social in Minnesota as Mississippi. But nothing says deep south like fried chicken.

                        13 Replies
                        1. re: Zeldog

                          Well, I can't say about current practices since I've lived away for 30 years, but our
                          Kansas/Missouri bred family usually brought fried chicken and either scalloped potatoes and/or Au Gratin potatoes to family functions. Noodles were either for spaghetti, mac & cheese, or a cold macaroni salad.
                          We always had tomato, Onion, and Cucumber salad too.
                          either creamed or in vinegar depending on the mood of the cook.
                          Missouri settler recipes. :)
                          and what of the 3 bean salad? Is that regional, or has it moved beyond?

                          1. re: bbqboy

                            hmm, i don't really think of missouri and kansas as the "south," though missouri is more so than kansas.

                            i thought this was an interesting take on what is the "south":
                            """Border South: Missouri, Kentucky, Maryland, and Delaware were states on the outer rim of the Confederacy that did not secede from the United States but did have significant numbers of residents who joined the Confederate armed forces. Kentucky and Missouri had Confederate governments in exile and were represented in the Confederate Congress and Confederate battle flag. West Virginia was formed in 1863 after the western region broke away from Virginia, and fought off efforts of Virginia to recapture the region.
                            The popular definition of the "South" is more informal and is generally associated with those states that seceded during the Civil War to form the Confederate States of America. Those states share commonalities of history and culture that carry on to the present day."""""

                            1. re: alkapal

                              Believe me, a lot of Missouri folk consider themselves "Southern", much as Kentuckians and Marylanders do. Our family recipes handed down are definitely headed down that path.
                              (+my dad was from Texas :) )
                              These border areas, (southern Illinois, Indiana and Ohio too), are more Southern in culture than geography. Tobacco fields and drying barns used to surround KC to the north, for instance.

                              1. re: bbqboy

                                yes, i guess that i think of missouri as more southern than anything "else," really. that is reinforced when i hear your senator speak. ;-).

                                1. re: alkapal

                                  As per your posts further upstream,do you think Southern traditional dishes aren't even surviving in the South?

                                  1. re: bbqboy

                                    bbq boy,

                                    sure, they survive, but the ones mentioned are not the one single "baked ziti" kind of dish that i'm looking for. they do show up with frequency, although i think convenience foods and -- on the other side -- health concerns have decreased how frequently such dishes are made and consumed.

                                2. re: bbqboy

                                  I don't know how many Marylanders consider themselves Southerners, being an ex-MDer myself.

                                  1. re: melpy

                                    I am also from Maryland and there are many parts o the state that are very southern in culture not to mention that the most excepted deliniation of the north and south on the east coast is the Mason-Dixon line which fall between MD and PA.

                                    1. re: chefj

                                      When our family moved to Southern Maryland (St. Mary's County), I kept my two children home from school on Lincoln's birthday.

                                      Later that morning, I received a phone call from the school inquiring about my absent children. I replied "It's a holiday, today is Lincoln'd birthday!" and was told "Lincoln's birthday is NOT a holiday in MD!

                                      That's southern enough for me.

                                  2. re: bbqboy

                                    Since moving to Kansas after living my entire life in South Carolina, I have been informed by the locals that the Civil War started at the Kansas-Missouri border...and they may be right. Missouri was a slave state and was a part of the Civil War, so it is technically, if not widely thought of as, a southern state.

                                    The addition of Kansas as a state and the ensuing arguements and battles over whether it would be a "free state" or a "slave state" most certainly helped push our nation to war. The conflict is often referred to as "Bleeding Kansas," "Bloody Kansas," or simply "The Border War," and lasted from 1854 until the end of the Civil War as "Bushwackers" (pro-slave, confederate raiders from Missouri) clashed with "Jayhawkers" (abolitionist, pro-union groups that tried to establish a free state regime in Kansas and would raid Missouri).

                                    Much of the language from this period carries on. The KU mascot is the Jayhawk. There is a brewery in Lawrence called "Free State Brewery." The annual KU-Mizzou game is called "The Border War"...there's a lot of sentiment on both sides I'm sure, but I've been fed the Kansas version.

                                    That said, I think people in Kansas eat as much if not more fried chicken than people in South Carolina...My vote is either for Mac and Cheese (which, in my neck of the woods, was often served - homemade, not Kraft - at church and family functions) or pound cake. People in other places make pound cake, but no one else makes it as often, takes it as seriously, or has as many variations as southern women do.

                                    1. re: Antithesisofpop

                                      aaah, pound cake! hmm, that may be true, we southerners do revere our pound cakes.

                                      1. re: Antithesisofpop

                                        I would only disagree with your assessment
                                        that they think the war has ended. :)

                                        1. re: bbqboy

                                          Well, the great part is that until October of 2007, I had always been told that "The first shots of the Civil War were fired in Charleston Harbor at the battle of Fort Sumter." There's not much ongoing Civil War talk in central Kansas like there is in South Carolina - especially Charleston. However, I worked in Historic Preservation and am still somewhat active in those circles, and the resident history buffs were quick to inform me that Kansas was the cause of the Civil War and that the first shots/deaths/battles/etc. were in KANSAS.

                                          Everyone has their regional pride :)

                                  1. re: alkapal

                                    Perhaps I'm being too myopic in your use of "Southern" but I really do consider Chicken Fried Steak to be THE comfort dish of Texas.

                                    So to answer your query in another way, with my own qualifier, I think the "Texan" equivalent of Baked Ziti would be Chicken Fried Steak.

                                    Why? Because, as you say, Chicken Fried Steak is "so widespread a dish that you'll find it at virtually every family, church or social gathering in [Texas]"?



                                    1. re: ipsedixit

                                      As somebody who lived for a good number of years in Baja Oklahoma (and even longer in its neighbor to the north), I'd have to disagree. Chicken fried steak is, indeed, an iconic regional dish, but I'm not sure I ever saw it at a potluck dinner or church social I attended. It's at its best eaten immediately after being prepared; the dishes that do well at potlucks are those that can be held for a while.

                                      1. re: alanbarnes

                                        "Baja Oklahoma" ... sort of like New York's Trash Can.

                                          1. re: alanbarnes

                                            I'm with alan here. I've been to countless church dinners and never saw CFS served at one of them. It's a delightful regional specialty, but it needs to be served fresh.

                                          2. re: ipsedixit

                                            Since I don't even consider Texas part of the South.... :) But ixnay on the CFS for the reason Alan says. Plus in Atlanta we had Country Fried Steak which was pan-fried and served with a brown pan gravy.

                                            1. re: c oliver

                                              Yeah, I think "authentic" Chicken Fried Steak is a Plains State thing, with real steak and White gravy. The trouble with State lines is that they don't accurately describe the regional food lines.

                                              1. re: c oliver

                                                At most gatherings, I see mac & cheese, fried chicken, barbecue sandwiches, beans, and Tex Mex dishes, mostly tacos and fajitas. Alan may call this "Baja Oklahoma", but it really is extreme northern Mexico.

                                        1. I see cole slaw, deviled eggs and corn bread frequently at pot-lucks, cook outs, etc. I agree with the other mentions of fried chicken, potato salad and cucumber/tomato salad. Brunswick stew shows up a bit in some areas.

                                          I haven't seen much in the way of jello dishes in years. Layer cakes are seen less frequently than pies. Banana pudding is a popular portable dish.

                                          Interesting topic!

                                          7 Replies
                                          1. re: meatn3

                                            hi meatn3, i think i need to make some deviled eggs today; i have some older eggs that i need to use up! ;-).

                                            i also bought some bacon yesterday to fix some frozen field peas with snaps i just bought last week at harris teeter. i guess that means i need to make some corn pone!

                                            1. re: alkapal

                                              If I start driving now I could be there for lunch!

                                              I picked up bacon the other day too - wanted to be ready for that perfect tomato to transform into a BLT!

                                              1. re: meatn3

                                                yes, but you my dear are in the heart of the country for the bestest smoked bbq pork in the world! we used to love driving through wilson at meal time, but have been disappointed in the more recent past (like two years ago), with food quality. i know there was a recent thread about bbq in that area.

                                                1. re: alkapal

                                                  Next time you head this way check out Naco's posts. He finds great places east of I-95. I have high hopes for Blackbeard's, just haven't been able to time it right for a meal yet.

                                                  1. re: meatn3

                                                    yes, on my profile page, i quote naco: "there is no bbq law." ;-).

                                            2. re: meatn3

                                              Here in the deep South, you always see potato salad, cole slaw, fried chicken, baked ham - have rarely seen mac and cheese, but pasta salads are popular. Banana pudding and cobblers always show up. In the summer, garden veggies take the stage (thank you God!) with pots of greens, green beans, corn on and off the cob; all sorts of things grown in the fertile soil. Also barbecue or baked chicken and casseroles of every sort. Where I was raised we had potluck dinners and dinners on the ground so often it makes me think - maybe foods aren't as dangerous as the experts say: we'd put the food together, go to service or social, and eat several hours later - never had or heard of a problem with it. Funny, huh?

                                              1. re: bayoucook

                                                If it were all that all-fired dangerous, there wouldn't be any humans on earth. Refrigeration is still a luxury in a lot of parts of the world and peole have survived without it since the dawn of time. Same with our family - the only time anyone got sick from eating was when my dad got hepatitis from a bad oyster at a firemen's social - he and about 50 other people.