At one point in Carla Hall's life, she was afraid to be labeled as a certain type of chef. Growing up in Tennessee, the Emmy-winning TV co-host, two-time Top Chef competitor and former model developed a love of soul food, which embodies "the stories of her heritage." But Hall strayed from being associated with the cooking style. "I just didn't want to be typecast," she says.
Competing on Bravo's Top Chef in 2008 changed things. "I started to just embrace it," she recalled. "Now I want to show that soul food is much broader than people think it is."
That's the aim of her newest cookbook, Carla Hall's Soul Food: Everyday and Celebration. Hall wants her recipes—ranging from ideas for a holiday spread to a quick Monday-night meal—to be relatable to home cooks of any background, even if they feel the need to tweak the directions or substitute a spice they're more used to cooking with. "Even though it’s a dish that might be from another culture, [it's about finding] what makes it unique to your culture."
For a celebration like Thanksgiving, however, the desire for simplicity is universal. "When I think about Thanksgiving (or Friendsgiving), people want to take something that travels well, something that is super-easy," Hall says.
She falls back on her tomato pie as a good side for this reason, as tomatoes are easily accessible year-round. For this recipe, use whatever variety of medium-sized tomatoes you can find, whether hothouse-grown or sun-ripened on the vine, or swap in a few handfuls of cherry tomatoes.
A staple in the South, tomato pie has many variations. Hall chooses a lighter style, incorporating a simple garlic-bread crust so that "the tomatoes really get to shine." It makes for a welcome companion to a classic Thanksgiving turkey, which Hall elects to break down into eight parts like a chicken, cooking the white and dark meat two separate ways.
For dessert, pecan pie is a no-brainer. "There's nothing like those toasted pecans with the perfect crust," she says.
One of the most important additions to Hall's pie might come as a surprise to some, but it prevents the dish from being "cloyingly sweet," a trait she dislikes in many pecan pies. The secret ingredient? Vinegar.
"Even if it isn’t in the recipe, just take the recipe that you have and then pour a little bit of vinegar," Hall says. "Start with a little bit, then taste it. That acid sort of balances the sweet, and it becomes more interesting."
While Hall takes the lead on most of the family cooking decisions, her husband, Matthew, who describes himself as "an enthusiastic enophile," handles the wine pairings. For the tomato pie, he suggests a creamy white that backs lush fruit with the vibrant acidity of the Roussanne grape variety, such as the 2014 Eric Texier Brézème Cotês du Rhône. For the rest of the meal, he chooses a versatile cru Beaujolais, the 2009 Jean-Paul Brun Morgon Terres Dorees. With its light tannins, juicy fruit and touch of spice, he says, it can carry all the way through the meal to the pie. It’s a perfect fit for people who prefer dry reds to sweet wines, as it won't exaggerate the tannins of the nuts and the richness of the filling. (However, he also enjoys the pie with Madeira.)
Below, Wine Spectator suggests 11 similar recently rated wines that should hold up well to the full spectrum of flavors and textures on the holiday table. The mix includes additional Rhône white blends and cru Beaujolais, as well as alternatives: bright Chardonnays from Burgundy and Tempranillo-based reds from Spain's Rioja region, which balance moderate tannins with fresh acidity.
Hall emphasizes that sharing her traditions doesn't mean she's implying they are for everyone. Instead, she hopes they might inspire "the curiosity of finding your own personal terroir."
Recipes reprinted by permission from Carla Hall’s Soul Food by Carla Hall and Genevieve Ko. Copyright © 2018 by Carla Hall. Published Oct. 23, 2018 by Harper Wave, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.
1. Preheat the oven to 450° F. Brush a 9-inch square metal cake pan with oil.
2. Cut four 1-inch-thick slices from the loaf. Arrange them in a single layer in the bottom of the pan. They should cover the bottom. If they don't, cut more slices to fit. Brush the bread all over with oil. Bake until the bread is golden brown and well-toasted, about 5 minutes.
3. Meanwhile, core the tomatoes. Trim the very tops and bottoms, then peel the tomatoes. Cut each in half through its equator. Mix the garlic and 3 tablespoons oil in a large bowl.
4. Arrange the tomatoes in a single layer over the bread. Gently smash them into the bread, then brush with the garlic oil. Sprinkle with 1 teaspoon thyme and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Tear the remaining bread into 1-inch chunks and toss in the garlic oil until evenly coated. Scatter the torn bread and remaining 1 teaspoon thyme leaves over the tomatoes.
5. Bake until the top is golden-brown and crisp and the tomatoes are juicy, about 30 minutes. Cool slightly, then cut into squares and serve. Serves 6
1. Preheat the oven to 425° F.
2. Line the frozen dough with foil and fill with pie weights. Bake until dry and set, about 25 minutes. Remove the foil with the weights and bake the dough until golden-brown, about 5 minutes longer. Let cool completely, then place on a half-sheet pan.
3. Reduce the oven temperature to 350° F.
4. Cream the butter and brown sugar with an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment or by hand with a wooden spoon until smooth and fluffy. While beating, add the eggs in a steady stream, then beat in the corn syrup, vinegar, salt, Bourbon and vanilla until smooth. Fold in the pecans and pour into the cooled pie shell.
5. Bake until golden-brown and mostly set but still a bit jiggly, about 45 minutes. Cool completely on a wire rack. Makes one 9-inch pie
1. Dissolve the sugar and salt in 1/3 cup water and chill until cold.
2. Pulse the flour and butter in a food processor until the mixture looks like coarse meal with some pea-size pieces. Add the 1/3 cup water all at once and pulse until the dough almost forms a ball. Divide the dough in half and flatten into two disks.
3. Wrap each disk tightly in plastic wrap and chill until firm, at least 30 minutes or up to 1 day. Makes two 9-inch crusts
Note: You can freeze the dough for up to 3 months. Thaw overnight in the refrigerator before rolling.
DELAS Crozes-Hermitage White Les Launes 2017
Creamy in feel, with alluring melon, pear and brioche flavors laced with a light verbena thread on the finish. Flash of macadamia nut adds a flattering hint. Drink now through 2019. 1,000 cases imported.
CHÂTEAU DE LA GREFFIÈRE Mâcon-La Roche Vineuse Vieilles Vignes 2016
A lush, ripe expression of apricot, golden apple, pastry and mineral flavors come together, focused by the bright structure. It's tangy and lingers on the finish. Drink now through 2022. 1,250 cases imported.
JOSEPH DROUHIN Pouilly-Fuissé 2016
Bordering on creamy in texture, here is a vibrant white that exhibits peach, apple and pastry flavors. It converges on the finish with a mouthwatering sensation. Drink now through 2022. 3,500 cases imported.
M. CHAPOUTIER Côtes du Roussillon White Les Vignes de Bila-Haut 2016
A creamy, broad white with fresh peach and melon notes woven together with lanolin and blanched almond details backed by a solid acidity. Spice notes linger into the finish flanked herb and mineral accents. Grenache Blanc, Roussanne, Macabeu and Marsanne. Drink now through 2020. 10,000 cases imported.
BODEGAS ONTAÑON Tempranillo-Graciano Rioja Reserva 2010
This red is fresh and lively, with a core of black cherry and plum accented by licorice, tobacco and mineral notes. The tannins are light but firm, the balsamic acidity bright, focusing the polished texture through the smoky finish. Drink now through 2022. 6,000 cases imported.
BODEGAS RODA Rioja Sela 2015
This firm red shows black cherry, plum, licorice, smoky and underbrush flavors, supported by well-integrated tannins and orange peel acidity. Has depth and focus. Drink now through 2027. 8,000 cases imported.
MAISON L'ENVOYÉ Morgon Côte du Py 2016
Plush tannins hug the cherry tart, red plum and spice box flavors of this medium bodied red with a fresh acidity highlights details of licorice, herb and mulberry on the finish. Drink now through 2023. 1,200 cases imported.
BODEGAS PALACIO Rioja Glorioso Crianza 2015
Smoky and cedar notes wreathe black cherry, mint and mineral flavors in this sinuous red. Firm tannins give it structure and lively acidity gives it energy. Drink now through 2025. 150,000 cases imported.
VIGNOBLES BULLIAT Morgon Cuvée du Colombier 2016
Light-to-medium bodied with woodsy undertones to the cherry and boysenberry fruit, this red offers spice box and floral aromas with lavender and mulberry flavors on the lightly tannic finish. Drink now through 2023. 5,000 cases imported.
CHÂTEAU DE PONCIÉ Fleurie Le Pré Roi 2016
Fresh and focused with a nice stream of cherry, black raspberry and anise flavors that are lined with floral and mineral details. Clean, with light-to-moderate tannins on the finish. Drink now through 2020. 1,000 cases imported.
VIGNOBLES DES ROCHES Morgon 2016
Nicely focused with cherry, apricot and red currant fruit detailed with woodsy spice and zesty accents. A juicy acidity and light, fleshy tannins offer support on the clean finish. Drink now through 2021. 2,600 cases imported.