Dash of Class: Dr. John Cole is 'One of Hardin County's Finest Cooks'

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Food column by Nora Sweat

By Nora Sweat

Today’s “One of Hardin County’s Finest Cooks” and his family are some of the recent newcomers to Hardin County. Dr. John Cole joined the practice of my neurosurgeon, Dr. Thad Jackson, and from what I hear from “Dr. J” and some of the nurses, Dr. Cole is quite the cook — to be exact, a gourmet cook.

Cole is a self-taught cook inspired by his mother, father and grandmother. His mom and mama (grandmother) are from Casey County so simple home cooking was the rule.

Of course, seasonal cooking was emphasized given the bounty of veggies and different proteins available here. He started to apply himself to cooking as a surgical intern because he could only spend so many hours a day reading about surgical technique. He was in the U.S. Army at the time and was stationed in Honolulu, Hawaii. Local ingredients were fresh and plentiful and a blending of cultures — Japanese, Korean, Portuguese, Native Hawaiian, Polynesian, Vietnamese and French — brought a new interest in cooking.

It was there he had his first sushi, and first taste of real French food. He took some of his dad’s passion for the grill, Mama’s respect of ingredients and Mom’s willingness to try food from other cultures as the guideposts for his culinary adventures.

He is an avid cookbook collector with more than 200 in his collection and reads cookbooks like others read novels. He ended up in Kentucky for medical school as his parents went to the University of Kentucky for undergrad and graduate degrees and he has many family members in the commonwealth. Here he met Bonnie, his “Air Force brat” wife, a pharmacist who was from California at the time. Since Cole was from Maryland, Kentucky seemed to be a good place to make a home. The Coles have 2-year-old twins, Quinn and Lachlan, and live in Elizabethtown.

Welcome, Dr. Cole, and thanks for sharing a great summer menu complete with recipes.

Summertime Gazpacho

2 lbs. heirloom tomatoes, finely diced, reserving all juice and seeds

1 c. water

1/4 c. sweet onion, chopped finely

1 cucumber

2 large yellow, orange or red peppers

1-2 T. sherry vinegar (may substitute 1 T. balsamic and 1 T. apple cider vinegar in a pinch)

1/4 t. cayenne pepper

Kosher Salt

Fresh Ground Pepper

6 T. extra virgin Olive Oil

2 T. minced chives

Add water and onion to a large bowl. Reserve 1 cup of the finely diced tomatoes and add remainder of tomatoes to water.

Peel the cucumber. Slice in half lengthwise and scoop out seeds. Cut each slice into a half moon and add to tomatoes and water.

Seed and finely chop the peppers, reserve 1/4 cup, and dice.

Transfer vegetables with the water to blender and puree until completely smooth. Then press through a strainer a little at a time.

Rinse blender jar and add strained vegetable puree. Add vinegar, salt and black/cayenne peppers. With blender on high speed, gradually add olive oil until emulsified and quite smooth. Taste and season with additional salt, pepper and vinegar. Chill in the refrigerator until cold. Will keep for 2 days.

To serve:

I like to heap a small portion of the reserved diced tomato, cucumber and pepper in a shallow bowl and pour the soup around this island of veggies. I then garnish with an extra drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and chives.

Dr. Cole’s Notes:

Some of these recipes are interpretations of recipes from the cookbooks of Thomas Keller, a great French cook. Gazpacho is a summer soup. Therefore, do not use store-bought tomatoes as these are picked green and artificially ripened. The majority of the flavor of a tomato comes from the jelly surrounding the seeds. I omit garlic; the tomato is the star here. If you wish, add 1-2 cloves of finely minced fresh garlic. This pairs well with the grilled cheese recipe included. The soup is better the next day. If it separates, allow to warm for 15 minutes at room temperature and re-blend until smooth.


Caprese Salad

2 large heirloom tomatoes, 1 green and 1 red or yellow

1 package fresh Ovolini or Bocconcini mozzarella cheese

1 cup whole milk and salt to taste

1 cup packed fresh basil

1/3 cup pine nuts

1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil

2 medium cloves garlic

Kosher Salt

Fresh Ground Pepper

1/4-1/3 Cup parmesan

Pinch of sea salt

Place fresh mozzarella (whole) in slightly salted whole milk at room temp for 45 minutes to improve flavor. This step can be omitted. Toast pine nuts in a small skillet over low-medium heat, stirring continuously. When they begin to smell nutty and take a slight color, they are done. Set aside to cool.

Wash and squeeze out water from basil and add to food processor. Add cooled pine nuts, cheese and a pinch of salt and pepper. Crush and peel garlic with the side of a knife and add to food processor. Pulse ingredients together until a loose paste forms. Add olive oil in a slow drizzle to running food processor until desired consistency is acquired.

Taste and add additional salt or pepper to taste. Place a piece of plastic wrap on top of pesto and immediately refrigerate. Core and slice tomatoes 1/4-inch thick. Slice fresh mozzarella 1/4-inch thick.

To serve, lay alternating slices of tomato and mozzarella on top of platter. Pour pesto liberally in a stripe down the middle and sprinkle sea salt over the top. Serve immediately.

Dr. Cole’s Notes:

I prefer my pesto slightly loose, heavier on the oil. Fresh mozzarella can be improved immensely by soaking it in the warm salted milk. It warms and loosens the cheese and has a fresh flavor. This step can be omitted in the interest of time.


Roasted Tomato and Prosciutto Grilled Cheese Sandwiches

Roasted Tomatoes:

2 lb. heirloom or plum tomatoes

1 t. fresh thyme

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

2 garlic cloves, minced

1 T. kosher salt

Fresh cracked pepper

1/2 t. granulated sugar

For roasted tomatoes:

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Lightly oil a baking sheet and slice tomatoes into 1/4- to 1/3-inch slices and place on baking sheet. If plum tomatoes are used, cut in half and place seed side up on baking sheet. Sprinkle evenly with salt, pepper, sugar, garlic and thyme. Drizzle with olive oil and bake for 45 minutes until slightly wrinkled. Remove from oven to cool.

For sandwiches:

Increase oven temp to 350 and preheat. Preheat a non-stick skillet over medium heat.

Lay bottom halves of sandwiches in skillet. Place cheese, prosciutto and a slice of roasted tomato on bottom half. You may add additional cheese over tomato. Top sandwich and liberally butter top with melted butter. Add sandwiches 2 at a time and cook for 1-2 minutes until nicely browned. While bottom is cooking, butter the other half of the bread. Press and flip and cook an additional 45 seconds.

Place on broiler pan and once all are completed place in preheated oven for an additional 2 minutes to melt cheese fully and warm. To serve, slice on the bias and stack. Serve with a bowl of gazpacho and caprese salad on the side.

Dr. Cole’s notes:

Bacon may be used to substitute for prosciutto but should be cooked before using on the sandwich. You also could use thinly sliced country ham. For a less sharp sandwich, Gruyere cheese may be used.


Nora Sweat, author of “Mama and Me,” is a native of HardinCounty and a retired home economics/family and consumer science teacher. She can be reached at norasweat@thenewsenterprise.comor by mail at 408 W. Dixie Ave., Elizabethtown, KY 42701.