SIMPLE GRITS (3 cups, serving four)
2 cups whole milk
2 cups water
1 cup stone-ground grits*
¾ teaspoon kosher salt, plus more to taste
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more to taste
1 tablespoon butter
1. Pour the milk and water into a 2 quart saucepan, cover and turn the heat to medium-high. When the milk mixture boils (about 5 minutes), uncover the pot, add the grits and salt, and reduce the heat to medium. Stir constantly until the grits are the consistency of thick soup and release a fragrant sweet corn perfume, about 8 minutes. Reduce the heart to low and simmer, stirring every 2 or 3 minutes, for about 20 minutes. or until the grits thicken and fall lazily from the end of the spoon. Cook about 15 minutes more, stirring constantly to prevent the grits from sticking to the bottom of the pan.
2. When the grits are creamy and fluffy and soft, turn off the heat, add the pepper and butter, and stir to incorporate. Season to taste with salt and pepper, if desired, and serve immediately.
WITH BLUE CHEESE (for four)
When the grits have finished cooking, add ¼ cup crumbled creamy blue cheese, such as Maytag or Clemson, and stir thoroughly. Then season with salt and pepper if desired.
Almost any cheese is an appealing match for grits’ warm corn flavor: Cheddar, feta, parmesan, Pecorino Romano, ricotta, goat’s milk cheeses, and sheep’s milk cheeses all melt beautifully into hot grits. Begin by adding ¼ cup, then add more to taste, before a final seasoning with salt and pepper.
WITH CREAM (for four)
Instead of 2 cups of milk and 2 cups of water, substitute 3 cups of chicken stock or low-salt chicken broth and 1 cup of whipping cream. Add 4 tablespoons of butter and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Gradually whisk in the grits and proceed as directed above.
WITH HERBS (for four)
After the butter and pepper have been added to the grits, stir in ½ cup coarsely chopped summer herbs, such as basil, mint, parsley, lovage or cilantro (or a combination) and a heaping teaspoon finely chopped green onion. Mix thoroughly until the herbs wilt and turn bright green. Then season with salt and pepper to taste.
Winter herbs, such as rosemary or sage, work equally well with grits’ corn taste, but their assertive flavor calls for a more judicious hand. Stir just 1 tablespoon coarsely chopped fresh rosemary or sage into the grits once the flame under the pot has been turned off, and before the final seasoning with salt and pepper.
WITH LEMON (for four)
After the butter and pepper have been added to the cooked grits, stir in 1 teaspoon finely minced lemon zest. Then season with salt and pepper to taste. Lime zest may be substituted for the lemon zest.
*NOTE: Stone ground grits are hard to come by in the North. If you must substitute “old fashioned” grits from a commercial mill, like Quaker, bring liquid to a simmer, sprinkle in the grits, stirring, reduce heat to low and cover. Cook, stirring briskly every 2 to 3 minutes, for 15 to 20 minutes.