Grits, Polenta, Mush, Pap are just a few of the names associated with ground corn that has been boiled for a varying degree of time in a liquid (water, broth or even milk). The final result, whether completely smooth and creamy or still having some texture remaining is a result of personal choice, time and to some degree the type of ground corn used. I will leave the debate of what is Grits versus what is Polenta to the “purists”. Personally, I love both and use Grits at home out of convenience. For me, Grits provide a perfect background to incorporate a variety of flavors and aromas to a side dish.
One of the great characteristics of cooking with ground corn is the ability to absorb large amounts of water not unlike Arborio Rice used to make Risotto. This allows for ingredients with high water content; mushrooms and diced tomatoes to be added at a late stage of the cooking and not impact the desired consistency of the final dish. For me, this provides an endless variety of options when cooking with Grits.
Recently I was baking fish topped with Italian bread crumbs and was looking for a side dish to complement the fish. I knew I wanted to have the salty sharpness of a hard grated Italian cheese, but I was also looking to add an ingredient would provide some contrast to the grated cheese blended with the cooked grits. Diced tomatoes appeared to be the answer I was seeking.
- 4 Cups of Water
- 1 Large Tomato Bouillon Cube with Chicken Flavor (any bouillon cube flavor would work well)
- 1 Cup of Quick Grits
- 1/2 Cup of Diced Tomatoes (drained and packed tight – the remaining liquid and diced tomatoes went into a Ziploc bag and into the freezer for future in a Puttanesca style Italian sauce or for use in a Stock)
- 3/4 Cup of Grated Italian Cheese (Romano)
- Fresh Coarse Cracked Black Pepper (10+ Cranks)
- Add the bouillon cube to the water and bring to a boil.
- Add the Quick Grits, reduce the heat to Medium and stir frequently for 5 – 7 minutes.
- Add the Diced Tomatoes, Grated Cheese and Black Pepper, then thoroughly mix.
- Turn off the heat and allow the grits to set and cool for a few minutes.
One of the great things about Grits is that once they have been cooked and removed from the heat, they are quick to become firm enough / set that they do not run all over the plate. The combination of the saltiness of the cheese combine with the acidity of the diced tomatoes was exactly what I was looking to achieve. Since the diced tomatoes were added at the very end of cooking, they still retained their own texture and provided these little burst of flavor with each bite of the Grits.
One of these days I will perform a comparison between Grits and Polenta, following the same exact instructions for both, but for the moment, I am content with the versatility of Grits as a side dish.