A Farmhouse Breakfast with Creamy Cheesy Garlic Grits
I grew up with grits and I love them. They’re in my Comfort Food Top 5. But for some of you, like my Vermont-raised sister-in-law, I suppose grits have never graced your breakfast table and that makes me sad. Because not only do grits nourish the belly, they feed the soul. However, grits are what I deem as advanced food citizenship. They require a lot of love in the form of salt, butter and pepper (usually in that order of priority) to coax them to their full culinary potential of feel-good lusciousness. So, they have to be prepared properly to convert the non-grit believer into a faithful disciple. But, like their Italian cornmeal cousin, polenta, grits can also take on a variety of flavor profiles and make a stupendous side dish.
I have two funny stories about grits and both involve my mother.
The first she tells about when she was very little. “Well, I was still too young to do the dishes after supper,” she announces with a very satisfied, dimpled smile, in an uncharacteristically girlish voice that smacks of Scarlet O’Hara.
She continues to explain that her brothers, my uncles, would split the kitchen clean-upduty: one would wash the dishes and the other would scrub the pots and pans. Fair enough. Or maybe not. You see, grits (and rice) were both year-round staples in the family and when cooked, they leave a baked-on residue that is wickedly difficult to remove. This, of course, was before the luxury of easy-care and non-stick cookware and my grandmother’s pots & pans were those heavy-duty, knobby aluminum jobs that were as far from either as you can imagine. Basically, you needed a jackhammer to pry the layer of dregs from these pots. My uncle, in a youthful blazing moment of genius (a.k.a. laziness), decided to forgo the nearly impossible task of rendering the vessel from its corn-based burden. So his “out-of-sight, out-of-mind” theory led him to hide the offending pot under the porch stoop. Dishes done! Brilliant! Well, at least until all of Grandmother’s cookware went missing and he was busted. By the time the pots were discovered, they were pretty far gone. Apparently, my grandmother would take those crusted pots, turn them upside-down in the grass and the overnight dew would loosen the mess by the next morning. I love that part.
The second story also involves Adam. Now, my mother is, um, well….she’s easily convinced. Okay, she’s gullible. With that said, my darling husband thoroughly enjoys exploiting this characteristic and he’s really good at it. One day, we were visiting my folks, having lunch out, when I heard “the tone.” With his wry wit and sense of humor, it takes an expert to discern when Adam’s joking. After seventeen years, I have become very practiced and smooth in recognizing the set-up. My mother, not so much.
So, here’s how it played out. Adam, casually said, “So, Linda,” pausing for effect and ensuring the entire table had turned their attention to the impending question. My mother looked up as he delivered the blow, “Cheryl tells me that you prefer to use instant grits.”
She let out an audible gasp.
Her hand immediately covered her heart, as if to stop the bleeding from a mortal wound.
She recoiled, fearing the vapors from those evil words might possess her very being.
She declared with all her conviction, “NO! NO! NO! I NEVER, EVER used instant grits in my whole life!”
(Anyone who has ever seen My Cousin Vinny knows that no self-respecting Southerner would ever use instant grits.)
This, of course, amused my husband tremendously. He sat there like a Cheshire cat, grinning an over-achiever’s smile because her reaction was far better than he imagined. It took another margarita to calm my mother down while we tried to convince her that I said NO such thing and Adam was only kidding.
She may still hold a grudge.
About once a month on a lazy Sunday, Adam will request a farmhouse breakfast that includes bacon and eggs, buttermilk biscuits and pancakes. I also make a pot of these fabulous grits and really, really try to not eat them all myself. Some days are more successful than others, though.
- 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- 4 cups water
- 2 teaspoons kosher salt
- 1 cup fine-ground quick-cooking or grits (NOT instant, please!)
- 1 cup half-and-half
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1 cup grated extra-sharp Cheddar cheese, plus extra for garnish
- ½ cup grated Parmesan
- freshly ground black pepper
- chopped fresh chives
- In a heavy 4-quart saucepan, heat the olive oil. Add the garlic and cook for 30 seconds, just until it begins to soften. (Be careful it doesn’t burn!) Add the water and and salt and bring to a boil. Add in the grits slowly, whisking constantly until incorporated and smooth.
- Reduce the heat to medium-low; cover and cook, stirring occasionally, just until the grits begin to thicken, about 10 to 12 minutes. Stir in the half-and-half. Reduce the heat to low; cover and cook, stirring often until the half-and-half is heated through and the mixture is thick and creamy, another 8 to 10 minutes.
- Remove the pot from the heat, add the butter and cheeses. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve immediately with extra Cheddar and chives as a garnish.
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