Saturday, August 23, 2008

Jalapeño-Wine-Cheese Grits: better than Polenta?

Question: What is more locavore than polenta, easier to make, and (in my opinion) has better flavor? Answer: Stone-ground grits prepared like soft polenta. It also turns out that these are reasonably close to (and can be used as) the elegant grits that are the base for the wonderful 'shrimp and grits' of the Carolina lowcounty.

I've been experimenting recently with dinner grits because I'll be demonstrating cooking in a couple of weeks at the Athens Farmers Market. There they want you to use primarily local produce in the recipes you teach. I'm using locally ground grits rather than pasta or rice for the entree I developed of sautéed butternut with late summer vegetables. In addition, this Fall we will need a similar base dish for a major banquet of 'local food' our restaurant will be catering for the UGA School of Ecology. Tonight for guests I will be serving these polenta-like grits with a Northern Italian dish of sautéed chicken with red wine and sun-dried tomatoes (in my blog posting of 8/24/08).

I've been using one of my favorite stone-ground grits, the 'speckled' yellow grits from Nora Mills in Helen, Georgia. 'Red Mule' grits, ground in Athens-Clarke County, also work well. And for other types of grits dishes I've successfully used stone-ground grits from Tennessee. And while some subtleties of flavor will be lost, even the commercial Aunt Jemima and similar 'old-fashioned' (not 'quick') grits can be successfully used if stone-ground grits are not available.

For this dish, cook the grits first, and keep them warm while preparing the topping. The recipes serve six people.

Jalapeño-Wine-Cheese Grits Tim

1 cup milk
3 cups water
1 cup stone-ground grits (Georgia, and yellow, preferred)
1/2 cup white wine
1 small jalapeño pepper, seeded and minced
3/4 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
1/8 teaspoon grated black pepper
2 tablespoons grated Romano or Parmesan cheese

In a heavy pan, bring milk and water to a boil, being careful the mixture does not boil over. Stirring constantly with a wooden spoon or spatula, add the grits in a small stream. Reduce heat to medium, and continue to stir frequently as the grits begin to thicken, 4 to 5 minutes. Add the wine, minced jalapeño, salt, and pepper. Reduce the heat to the lowest, cover the pot and simmer, stirring from time to time, until grits are becoming tender, 20 minutes or more depending on the grits used. Stir in the cheese. Taste, and add a little salt if necessary. Continue to simmer (or place the pot in a larger pan with an inch of boiling water to serve as a hot water bath as they simmer) until ready to serve, stirring from time to time. The longer the grits simmer the better. If the grits thicken too much (so they won't flow), add a little water. Do a final taste and adjust the salt, if necessary, before serving.

To serve these grits, spread them in a thick puddle on a platter or individual plates. Spoon the topping over them.

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