Thursday, January 28, 2010

The Yankee Guide to Grits

Jude Mathews, a Savannah native and a fabulous cook who has prepared breakfasts at Hovey House, won a $7,000 scholarship to the Culinary Institute of America with this article about her favorite breakfast casserole. It’s delicate — somewhat reminiscent of a souffle. You’ll love it when you have company because it can be made the night before and reheated in the morning. Substitute cooked, drained sausage for the ham for a change.

Grits Casserole
1 cup dry grits
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
1 cup milk
4 eggs
1 pound diced ham
1/3 cup diced red bell pepper
1/3 cup diced green bell pepper
2 T. minced chives
2 T. butter
½ t. dry mustard
½ t garlic powder
½ t salt • ½ t black pepper
3-6 dashes Tabasco sauce
Cook grits according to directions on box. Sauté ham and peppers to remove excess moisture, about 7-10 min. Add ham and peppers to grits and stir, add shredded cheese and stir to melt cheese. Whisk 4 eggs with 1 cup of milk; add garlic powder, dry mustard, salt and pepper and Tabasco. Add egg mixture to grits and mix complexly. Pour into a baking dish. Bake at 350oF for 35-45 minutes or until bubbly. Let sit for 10 minutes before serving. 6 servings.

The Yankee Guide to Grits by Jude E. Mathews
If you grew up below the Mason Dixon line it goes without saying you grew up on grits. G.R.I.T.S. is even a colloquial acronym for people like y’all: Girls Raised In The South. Grits are part of every Southerner’s heritage.

But mention grits to a Yankee and you are met with anything from a blank stare to an outright “Yuck!” Not so surprising; improperly made grits are admittedly reminiscent of lumpy library paste. Southerners, however, don’t eat those.

Some of the best grits come stone-ground from little country mills, but you can get good grits in just about any grocery store. Grits have a delicious nutty flavor and a toothy, grainy texture that can stand alone, though they rarely do. They almost always pair up with complementary foods.

Grits are infinitely versatile. They can be served soft right out of the pan (like mashed potatoes) with gravy. Or allowed to cool and harden in a thin layer, cut into decorative shapes, then broiled (with lots of butter and Parmesan) or fried till crispy around the edges, as a change from rice and potatoes. They can be folded into stiffly beaten egg whites for a soufflé or used as a bottom crust or a golden topping for a casserole. Snuggle them against anything from Cajun shrimp to diced ham and scrambled eggs. If you are a purist you may want to skip the trouble and the calories and let the true, unadorned flavor of the corn shine alone.

Italians use grits, known to them as polenta, as a neutral base for a limitless number of flavorful toppings. Grits, sometimes referred to as hominy grits, are just a coarser grind of cornmeal. Yellow grits, as well as polenta, come from un-hulled corn; white grits from hulled corn. Yankees who think they “hate” grits usually love polenta. What’s not to love about a golden mound of grits/polenta strewn with fennel-specked sausages, peppers, onions, wild mushrooms, and melted Fontina?

One of my favorite ways of serving grits to unsuspecting Yankees is in a breakfast casserole made with eggs, ham, cheese and of course grits. The beauty of this recipe is that you can make it the night before and refrigerate it. Next morning you heat it in the oven while you brew coffee and pour juice. When your guests ask what was in that fabulous concoction, tell them they just kissed your grits.

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