You'd think, with my starch obsession, that I would have mastered grits long ago. A creamy pile of long-cooked, ground-up, casing-removed, lye-soaked corn kernels - it sounds like the stuff of dreams. And it certainly is, though with the amount of time spent stirring and cooking them (because I took no short-cuts and shunned instant or quick-cook grits), you might fall asleep at the stove before you can ever get around to actually eating dinner (or breakfast). It's a good thing I have a Southern roommate who helped me identify when the grits were ready or I might still be in my kitchen, with one sore arm. I wonder, does soaking grits speed up the time they spend on the stove? Could cooking them in the oven, without the incessant stirring, achieve similarly creamy results? Or is the hard work at the stove part of the whole gritsian process?
I bought my grits at Murray's Cheese, where they order in bulk from Anson Mills and then repackage them in manageable containers. This guarantees you with fresh grits that you'll use up quickly and limits the probability of them going rancid and stale before you get around to finishing your 5-pound burlap sack (though that image sort of brings the whole frontier woman thing full circle, at least for me). I used a recipe credited to Jody Adams of Rialto in Cambridge, Massachusetts, but probably didn't use a heavy enough pot (resulting in a lily pad of gluey grits sticking to the bottom until I washed the pan) and I definitely needed far more water than she called for. But they were delicious. Enriched with a dab of butter, they were toothsome and creamy and corny, yet still so different from polenta.
To top my little bowl of gritty goodness, I made a panful of Regina Schrambling's deviled shiitakes - a recipe adapted and updated from James Beard. The beauty of this dish is the speed with which it's prepared: a perfect counterpoint to the slow-cooked grits. I sauteed minced shallots and garlic in some butter, then added dried herbs (I didn't have herbes de Provence, so I used the Italian herb mixture Penzey's sent me as a present once) and salt, and then dumped in the sliced mushroom caps. I couldn't get them to brown very well, so I cooked them until they were just tender, then added soy sauce, Worcestershire, and mustard. I left out the Tabasco and ground in peperoncino instead, then added a bit of stock and let it all cook together quickly before ladling it out.
The highly seasoned, silky mushrooms were beautifully balanced with the soft, pale grits. I loved the combination of pepped-up 21st century shiitakes with old-fashioned Southern comfort food. If I can figure out how to get those grits cooked faster, I'll be one happy lady.