July 3, 2011

Cheesy Grits, or if you are fancy--Polenta with Cheese

 DSC_5856 Grits are a staple of Southern cuisine.  Often when people tell me that they do not like grits, I respond that they just haven’t had them prepared correctly.  After they taste real grits, they usually agree with me.  I’ve been purchasing my grits from a local farmer who sells at the New Harvest Park and downtown markets, and they are perhaps the best I’ve ever found.  The recipe is one that is adapted from a list of recipes that the farmer gave to me when making my purchase. Watch for “Shelton Farms Grits” if you are in the Knoxville area and buy more than one bag—trust me, you’ll be glad you did!


2 cups milk (I prefer Cruze Dairy Farm milk)
2 cups water
1 1/2-2 teaspoons salt
1 cup uncooked Shelton Farms grits—don’t use instant grits.  If buying at the store, look for stone ground grits or polenta.
1 cup whole milk or whipping cream
1/4-1/2 cup butter
1-1 1/2 cup shredded cheese (I have used co-jack, Colby, cheddar, and white cheddar.  If using a hard cheese such as Parmesan, I recommend scaling back the amount that you use and tasting it a few times to get the proportions right).
Tony’s (optional and to taste)



Note that grits are one of those foods that while you don’t have to stand over them the entire time, you don’t want to multi-task too much.  You want to stir them often to get them right.  I recommend using either a wooden spoon or a heat resistant rubber spatula.  I don’t really have a good reason for that, but after seeing enough old Southern women and Italian mommas cooking them this way, it just seems like the right thing to do. 

Bring first 3 ingredients to a light boil in a large saucepan and stir in grits.  Reduce heat to a simmer and cook for at least 40 minutes.  At about 35 minutes, taste them.  If they still are a little firm, cook longer.  If they become a little too thick, use the extra cup of milk to thin them out, adding a few tablespoons at a time when stirring.  Stir the grits often.  When they are tender, at about 40 minutes of cooking, add the butter and cheese and turn the heat off.  Let them sit on the hot burner, again stirring occasionally, until you are ready to serve them.  Add a bit of Tony’s for color and flavor if you like.  The butter and cheese, and milk for that matter, are all to taste.  You can add more or less if you like, depending on how cheesy, buttery, and creamy you want them.

The next day, the polenta will almost be congealed.  You can slice it and fry it in an oiled cast iron skillet for a really nice treat!

For a savory treat, serve these with shrimp and gravy.  For an Italian treat, sauté some kale with a bit of bacon and add a can of white beans that have been rinsed in the last couple of minutes of cooking.  Serve the kale and bean mixture on top of the polenta.  For a yummy Southern breakfast, serve these with an egg over easy and biscuits.

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