Thursday, November 5, 2009

Southern Newbie

The daughter to two Yankees, a mother who was born in New York City and a father who was born at the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard, I'm a newbie to Southern cooking. After my trip to North Carolina and Virginia, however, I am inspired to try some Southern specialties.

To that end, I bought a bag of water stone ground grits from a little shop in Elkin, a tiny hill town in northwestern North Carolina where my nephew has settled. It's a lovely town, a slice of America a few decades ago - and that's a good thing. There is only one elementary, one middle and one high school (the football team is called the Bucking Elks - you can imagine what more jaded kids would make of that) and all the kids pile into the local soda shop on Friday afternoons after school for some ice cream and socializing. Lots of giggling and flirting, pranks and laughter. Their parents stand around chatting, too, but the true supervision is provided by the owners of the soda shop who love the kids but tolerate no nonsense on their premises. It takes a village.

My mother had a Southern friend, Maria Hart, who made cheesy grits that Mom, who never loved grits in any other form, heartily approved of. That recipe came to me via my sister, who has lived in the South all her adult life and used this recipe successfully at many a dinner party. After forty years of living in Virginia, she may still be "Tom's Yankee wife" to the folks down there but she can cook like she was born south of the Mason-Dixon line. Now you know the pedigree of this particular recipe for Cheesy Grits.

This dish is insanely rich, no two ways about it. I think the dairy industry must have invented it. If you ate this frequently, you would be a serious candidate for bypass surgery;
nevertheless, it is so delicious that it will have you singing "Dixie."

1 quart milk
1/2 cup butter (This seems excessive but I have it on good authority that it is necessary)
1 cup grits (I used fairly coarsely ground grits) (Quick grits will work but don't use instant grits)
Salt and pepper to taste
1 cup shredded gruyere or Swiss cheese (I used gruyere)
1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese (I used Parmesano Reggiano)
1 additional Tablespoon of butter for the top

Boil milk, add 1/2 cup butter. When butter has melted, stir in 1 cup grits and cook until thickened, stirring occasionally, about 15 minutes. Add salt to taste (I omit this step as the cheeses are both salty and we liked it without additional salt) and pepper. Off the heat, beat with a hand mixer for five full minutes until creamy (don't fret, it will still have texture). Mix in the two cheeses while beating. Pour into casserole and top with the additional tablespoon or two of butter. Bake at 400 degrees for 30-35 minutes.

It emerges from the oven hotter than a nuclear meltdown; it stayed very warm in my Corning ware casserole for 45 minutes after removal from the oven. That can be a bonus if you are making other dishes to go with it - keeping it warm is not a problem.

Serves 8.

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Blogger Kailyn said...

I always think of cheese grits as a breakfast thing -- like the ones you can get at the Waffle House. The only variation was when there were leftover grits from breakfast. My grandmother (dad's mom) would refrigerate them and then slice them up and fry them. My Virginia relatives eat grits like other breakfast cereals -- with milk, sugar and butter.

Thursday, November 05, 2009  
Blogger cookiecrumb said...

Gruyere! Shades of Dixie. ;)
Sounds unbelievably wonderful.

Thursday, November 05, 2009  
Blogger Zoomie said...

Kailyn, I had the leftovers for breakfast and they really were good that way. Before, I've always had the pure white ones served with butter next to eggs for breakfast, and they had no appeal, but these were good.

Cookiecrumb, yeah, not exactly authentic, I suppose, unless Dixie had it's share of French-Swiss immigrants but, man, was it good!

Thursday, November 05, 2009  
Blogger dancingmorganmouse said...

Grits, is corn meal, yes? Would polenta do, do you think?

Friday, November 06, 2009  
Blogger Kailyn said...

DMM, polenta and grits are almost interchangeable. The difference is that polenta is yellow while grits are white. But yeah, boiled grits are about the same consistency as polenta.

Friday, November 06, 2009  
Blogger Zoomie said...

Kailyn, to me, grits taste quite different from polenta and have a very different texture, too. I'm not a huge polenta fan but I do like grits.

Monday, November 09, 2009  
Anonymous Evil Empress said...

Wow. This looks right up my alley. Yumm-o.

Saturday, November 14, 2009  

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