Contains: Grains, dairy, nightshade seasonings. Is: Gluten-free, filled with an ancestral touch, has a vegetarian option.
My paternal grandmother passed away late winter of 1983.
The dish I remember most of hers (and she had several old South recipes) was her cheesy grits casserole. Maybe this is what is meant by “comfort food”? Not ever so much a food dish per se, but the memories around the childhood table, the people you shared with there, probably also the conversations and the house and yard and pets you were intimate with? (Which may partially explain why mac n’ cheese never achieved such a status… Mac ‘n’ cheese was served to us (from the Kraft box, but with extra cheese) when the parents were headed out, and we were left with the wiles of the sitters…)
Both my grandmothers were born, raised and reared in Kentucky, in Louisville, but it was Dad’s mother who made this casserole. Dad grew up and went on to dislike grits and oatmeal and any dish of that overall texture made from grains (so grits was never a dish served by my parents), but I remembered liking those dishes when we went down south to Kentucky for holidays and other occasions. These were the only times I ever had these grits until a mistake on the road during the College Spring Break from Hell To and From Daytona Road Trip, when I had breakfast grits made with water and no flavor at a bus road-stop where what we were served ended up being far less bad than the behavior of the staff at that place.
So, my effort today is made from memory (and we know how fickle that is) and expediency and a search for authenticity which is probably only a pseudo-authenticity — but right now I just want it to taste close to my memories, and to work for tasting good to me TODAY. Oh, i did add bacon. And peppers. Grandmother did neither. But it may well be she could have used chicken stock, which I didn’t.
If you wonder what grits are, they’re a corn based cereal that can be served either for breakfast or as a side at dinner. The latter is what my paternal Grandmother T provided. (Grandmother B was my maternal grandmother – alas, I really don’t recall anything she actually cooked, but I’m certain she DID cook! NO fast food back then, nor frequent restaurant ventures out….)
Since there really IS no standard recipe:
POTENTIAL IDEAS THAT I DREW FROM
The recipe on the back of the grits bag (Palmetto Farms Stone Ground Grits – Mixed [yellow and white grits].
I took elements from all three recipes, noting that I didn’t have “quick cooking” grits (I had the longer-cooking “stone ground” variety – so I followed instructions for the more traditionally-packaged grits that I had to hand. By all accounts, avoid the “instant” grits – I imagine they’re a lot like instant “oatmeal” or those packets of instant “rice” – I did cook with Uncle Ben’s converted rice when I was in college – there wasn’t a lot of good and inexpensive food choices in the Indiana of the mid to late 70s. (I never heard of ramen until probably a decade after graduation.)
Even now, in vast swaths of the Northern US, at least in New England, grits aren’t to be found in the supermarkets. One could probably use polenta (also a ground corn product). Since I didn’t think about that until writing up this post, I ordered my grits on line.
Prep Time: 15 minutes maybe, but some can be done during the first cooking stage.
Cook Time: 20-25 minutes on the cooktop, 30 minutes in the oven, if using a 10 inch skillet.
Rest Time: 5 minutes.
Serves: 4, as a side.
Cuisine: American south.
Cheesy Grits Casserole
- 0.75 cups of stone ground grits.
- 1.5 cups water. (Feel free to substitute chicken broth.)
- 1.5 cups whole milk.
- 1/4 teaspoon salt.
- 1 cup shredded cheddar, sharp preferred but medium is fine. (You are welcome to experiment with a variety of melt-able cheeses.)
- 1 tablespoon low sodium gluten-free tamari or soy sauce. (Sub with Worcestershire sauce if preferred, and desiring more authenticity. Note this will add in both gluten and seafood, if this is of concern.)
- 1 slice of bacon. (Grandmother didn’t add the bacon, but I am not certain what fat she used – probably butter. You can omit bacon, and use a half tablespoon of butter should you be wanting the bell or poblano pepper.)
- 1 poblano pepper, seeds removed, and diced. (You can use a small bell pepper if desired. Grandmother didn’t add the pepper, either.)
- 1/2 teaspoon or so of smoked ground paprika.
Pre-heat oven to 350 F.
Heat the water and milk together in a pan on the stove, noting that if un-watched, the pan WILL froth over. Avoid this, and as soon as the liquids start to rise, immediately reduce heat and add the grits.
For the stone ground, simmer lightly for 20-25 minutes, stirring frequently. Quick grits will take less time, and you may have to adjust liquid to solid ratios accordingly – read your package!
Add the cheese, stir, and reduce heat to just “warm”. Add the soy/Worcestershire sauce now. Stir.
Cook the bacon in a skillet. (To reduce pots and pans I was going to have to clean, I chose an oven safe skillet – as you will see. Use a 10 inch skillet.) Add the diced pepper while this cooks. Let the pepper cook in the fat from the bacon. You can start cooking this while the grits are cooking. Note that these will cook further in the oven, so take that into account here.
When bacon and peppers are done to your liking, remove them to a plate. Add most of the diced peppers to the grits, mixing well, reserving some for topping. Break up the bacon into small chunks, and set aside with the pepper topping.
Take the grits mixture from the cooking pan, and lay that into the skillet, smoothing it to the edges. Top with bits of the bacon, the leftover diced poblano or other pepper, and a sprinkling of smoked paprika.
Cook in the oven for 30 minutes.
Remove, allow to rest for about 5 minutes, then serve.
Scale up as needed for more, and bake longer as indicated by how the grits casserole will look. Grandmother cooked for 6 or so after all, and leftovers were something to be proud of. Re-heat in the oven, serve.