I can’t recall my first memory of grits.
I may have blocked it. That’s not because of any dislike, per se, but more likely it comes down to shame. I suspect that my first
encounter with grits involved copious butter with lots and lots of sugar, too. And as any self-respecting Southerner will tell you, sugar and grits are a dishonorable combination that casts considerable shade over the house that dares to serve it. You will understand, of course, why I may have repressed any such memory, if, in fact, it ever transpired at all.
Or it may be that I suffered at the hands of hurried or inconsiderate cooks who didn’t care to or know how to cook grits properly and, thus, served up some al dente. As far as I’m concerned, an underdone bowl of grits is a far greater transgression than a sweet one; and it’s much more horrid to the young and sensitive palate. Imagine the shock of that first, granular bite – why you’d want to forget that, too.
But whatever it was, something happened way back when to make me more than a little suspicious of this staple; and that’s wreaked havoc with my love of fine dining in town over the last decade or so as there are more grits on pretty plates than you can shake stick at.
In the intervening years, I have managed to accept grits or at least to taste them with an open mind, not because of the number of talented chefs giving grits a loving and careful treatment, but because of an old friend and roommate named Harry who shared his conviction that all grits are improved by good casserole treatment.
Harry’s Sunday habits were practically set in stone and included the New York Times, mimosas, biscuits, country ham and cheese
grit casserole. The paper was for Harry to read aloud to you whether you liked it or not, but everything else was selected for sharing. Harry’s house was one of those places where you never knew who might show up hungry. And being a firm believer in hospitality, Harry always had something to offer – provided, of course, that they would listen to his selected readings from the Times.
I don’t recall his exact recipe, but the one that follows is very close. And, as Harry would tell you, it feeds plenty and can sit happily in line with ham or whatever you serve for any upcoming family feasts or breakfasts or brunches for a crowd, waiting its turn and keeping its good taste and texture as everybody fills up their plate.
Tomato Head’s Grit Casserole with Mushroom Cream Sauce
2 cups Whole Milk
1 cup Water
½ cup Heavy Cream
½ tsp Salt
¼ tsp Ground Black Pepper
1 ¼ cups Stone Ground Grits
1 TBL Butter
1 cup Cheddar Cheese, shredded
Place the milk, water, heavy cream, salt and ground pepper in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Whisk until mixture starts to let off steam. Gradually stream in the grits while whisking, reduce heat to low and whisk constantly until mixture thickens. Remove the grits from the heat and add in butter and cheddar. In a small bowl whisk together the eggs, add ¼ cup of hot grits to the eggs and whisk until combined. Add the egg mixture to the cheese and grit mixture and mix well.
Pour the mixture into a greased 10-inch cast iron skillet and bake in a 350-degree oven for 25 minutes until the top is browned.
Serve the Grit Casserole in the skillet with Mushroom Cream Sauce on the side.
For the Mushroom Cream Sauce:
6 cups Mushrooms, sliced
2 TBL Butter
1 tsp Salt
½ tsp Black Pepper
¾ cups Heavy Cream
In a large skillet over high heat, melt butter. Add mushrooms and sauté for 2-3 minutes. Add salt, pepper and cream. Reduce heat to medium and cook until the cream thickens, about 3-4 minutes. Remove from heat and pour Mushrooms into a small bowl.
Serve with Grit Casserole
Serves 6-8 people.