True Grit

The early aughts! We were so façonnable!

The first time I had grits, I was a preteen/teenager staying over at a friend’s house overnight. Her mama made a giant pot of grits for breakfast in the morning for Keturah, me, and her brothers. Up until that point, oatmeal was the only warm bowl of breakfast fare I’d had, but Miss Wanda’s grits, though simple, stuck with me. They may have been elementary, but they were uncomplicated and straightforward and definitely full of soul-warming flavor. Much like Miss Wanda herself.

Fast forward a few years (ok maybe a decade) and grits aren’t just some hum-drum breakfast grain anymore. They’ve seen a surge in popularity owing in large part to a handful of unconventional southern chefs taking the grain (a close cousin of polenta) and showing it a little respect. They’ve elevated it from a drab dish you’d pick from the “sides” menu to round out your meal to the main attraction… even so far as headlining some menus. It’s definitely a staple of the south, but one much more in demand now.

Cornmeal vs. Grits vs. Polenta

When I met The Mr, he was already three steps ahead of me. Shrimp & Grits is one of his favorite dishes and it’s now definitely one of mine. Somehow, classic grits just hits the spot all by itself. Grits is not only satisfying, but pretty quick and economical too. That’s what made Joanna Gaines’ Garlic Cheese Grits (from her first volume of Magnolia Table) so right for a quick weeknight in. Many of the ingredients I already had on hand in my pantry so I could quickly throw something together after a long day.

The garlicky, cheesy grits were so good, but I didn’t stop there. I always seem to have some chopped kale stored away in my freezer. Often from a dear friend’s garden, sometimes leftover from an unused portion purchased for a recipe. This time however, I also had some frozen sliced baby bellas on hand as well so I rounded out the bowl of comfort with some kale and mushrooms sautéed in garlic and oil. I’m including my version below!

Pam spray
1-1/4c quick-cooking grits
1/4c heavy whipping cream
4oz Velveeta (these mini blocks make this so easy!)
3/4c shredded sharp white Cheddar
4 cloves garlic, minced
1/2tbsp garlic salt
Smoked Paprika for finishing
1/4c chopped fresh chives/green onion
1c chopped kale
1/2c sliced mushrooms

1) Preheat oven 375°F and spray an 8×8 baking dish with Pam cooking spray.
2) In med saucepan, bring 5c water to a rolling boil and stir in the grits and reduce heat to medium. Cook stirring continually for 4-5min. Whisk in cream, Velveeta, Cheddar, 2 cloves minced garlic, and garlic salt. Continue to cook stirring for ~5min until all is incorporated harmoniously.
3) Pour mixture into baking dish and bake for 25-30min.
4) While the grits are baking, spray a medium saucepan with Pam and heat to medium. When the pan is hot toss in kale and sautée for 3-5min until slightly wilted. Toss in the mushrooms and drizzle with a little oil. Sautée 2-3min longer and sprinkle with a pinch of salt and 2 cloves minced garlic. Sautée 2-3min longer and cover. Reduce heat to low to keep warm.
5) When the grits are set and the top is golden, remove from the oven and scoop some servings into warm bowls and top with sprinklings of paprika and chives/green onions. Divide the sautéed kale mixture between the bowls. (Dollops of Daisy are also welcome!)

This cheesy grits did not let me down spiritually. They sent my tastebuds through the roof… into the stratosphere… and straight to flavor heaven! Where they did let me down was in the garlic flavor. The original recipe calls for garlic powder and it didn’t really pack much of a punch, so I swapped it out for fresh in the second run with much better results. The second time around the grits sent out a much more pronounced garlic flavor. The first time around, the garlic had a hard time fighting for some spotlight among the unctuous umami-laden cheeses. The second time around, the sharpness of the fresh garlic was able to break through the cozy blanket of cheese swirled throughout.

The fact that we made two batches pretty much speaks for our like for it. The dish was creamy and savory. The flavor was ever-deepened by the verdant kale and earthy mushrooms scattered on top that cut through the fat and salinity of both cheeses. With so many takes on grits these days, what do you put in your grits?

Currently Reading: Gone with the Windsors by Laurie Graham


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