These are yellow instead of the familiar white because they are the ones I find most often here.
Now I realize I may by putting myself out on a limb here by exposing my near total illiteracy about authentic Italian cuisine; but it is true that for months I passed by boxes and boxes of grits sitting right there in front of me on my grocer’s shelf. Occasionally, we would get the odd box or two of Quaker Instant Grits; but for the most part I did without my favorite gluten free staple for months after moving halfway around the world to China.
Of course I knew what grits looked like, but these boxes were cardboard and printed in a foreign language. So I paid very little attention to them. It was not until I discovered that the Food Network could be accessed in China (via my newly installed vpn) that I practically fell in love with one of the prettiest cooks I know — Giada. As I lingered over the gorgeous photos in her cookbooks and practically drooled over her recipes for everyday Italian food, I began to realize that what Italians call “Polenta”, my Southern sisters and I call “plain ole’ grits.”
Honestly, polenta sounded so much more sophisticated and it was usually presented in rather fancy molded shapes. So unlike the diaphanous plops I ate in a bowl or beside my scrambled eggs and bacon, polenta had a certain mystic to it. Some of this I am sure was probably from the sheer fantasy of looking like and possibly cooking like Giada, but slowly my mind began to wrap itself around the fact that polenta is my beloved grits’ well-traveled next of kin.
Soon I began buying boxes of polenta feeling thankful that I still had my favorite Southern food to comfort me (being over 7000 miles away from home). And if truth be known, feeling just a bit self-satisfied I finally had something in common with Giada. Along with this new sense of Southern cooking security, I began to branch out and discovered literally dozens of ways to eat and serve grits.
My plan is to have a whole category devoted to grits, as they are tasty, nutritious, versatile and entirely cosmopolitan! They are also gluten free so I will start with this classic recipe that I adapted from one of my favorite Southern cooks of all time, the late Annie Johnson. Her life and recipes have been lovingly preserved by Lee Rankin in her cookbook Cookin’ Up a Storm: The Life and Recipes of Annie Johnson (Grace Publishers, Louisville, KY, 2003).
Cooking Basic Old-Fashioned Stoneground Grits
Into a medium sauce pan, combine 4 cups of cold water, 1 cup of stoneground grits (not quick-cooking), and 2 teaspoons of Celtic sea salt.
Heat the pan of water and grits on medium to medium high heat, until they begin to steam. Add 1/4 cup of butter to the grits and begin to stir nearly constantly until the grits are softened and all of the water is absorbed.
Technically, they shouldn’t boil, but remain at a constant simmer until they are done. Hence the constant stirring and checking the heat to keep them from sputtering out of the pot.
Carefully taste the grits by letting a spoonful cool before putting them into your mouth (grits retain their heat and can burn if you are not careful). Add more salt if needed as well as freshly ground black pepper to taste.
Cooking Tips: Use a long handled spoon for this as hot grits when they sputter can burn your hand or arms unexpectedly. Keep the heat on medium and turn down if they start to cook too fast to avoid this.
Usually, they take about 15 minutes from start to finish.
Makes 6 servings.
Grits, the gluten free Southern classic!
For more on Giada de Laurentiis, please see her book Everyday Italian (Clarkson Potter, NY, 2005).