I must admit that I am a bit embarrassed to post about grits so soon after I waxed poetic about polenta, as the two foods are so similar. On top of that, the ingredients in this dish will look a little bit repetitive if you have been following what we’ve been cooking the past few weeks. I promise we’re not totally boring people who eat the same thing over and over again. This time, at least, there is a good reason for our redundancy; our cooking this past week was influenced heavily by the need to clear out our fridge in preparation for a trip to Barcelona (!!!). I find the week before a trip kind of frustrating in terms of cooking, as while it’s all very well and good to try and use what you have, what you have always seems to consist of random odds and ends that don’t really go together, leaving one, at the end of the day, with a whole lot of hot dogs for dinner. And pierogi. Etc.
I was therefore pretty pleased with myself when I pulled this dish together the other night, combining some staples we had in our freezer (bacon, shrimp) with some produce that needed to be eaten (rhubarb, lime, corn). I am always kind of excited when I use our stone ground grits, too, as we only recently discovered them. For a long time, I had been obsessed with the idea of grits because I, like every other person on the planet, am totally enamoured of Southern U.S. cooking. But they are seemingly impossible to find north of the border, so for a while they were this elusive mystery to me. Luckily, I have wonderful culinary accomplices. At first, a dear friend literally mailed us some from the U.S., with strict instructions from her very southern mom on how to cook them. And so I was hooked. I have since taken to bringing some back I have travel down south myself. And even my mom is in on it–whenever she goes to the condo in Florida she comes back with a package of stone ground grits for me. She has no idea what they are, exactly, but she knows I always need some!
Anyway. I wasn’t sure this dish was going to work out at first, and indeed, Graeme looked at me skeptically when I plunked a savoury dish involving rhubarb down in front of him. I was a bit worried that I was going out on too much of a limb for myself (I am generally not very courageous when working without a recipe), in a feverish attempt to not let my precious rhubarb go to waste, but we both should have had more faith: it was AWESOME. Pairing flavours like bacon with sweet things is hardly a new idea, and rhubarb particularly lent itself beautifully to such a combination. I made a simple compote that I kept nice and tart so that it added just a little bit of sweetness, and a lot of lovely tartness to brighten up what could otherwise feel like a bit of a heavy, muddled plate of food. This dinner was a victory over the oftentimes humdrum nature of week-before-vacation eating.
If you’ve got any leftover rhubarb and you are tired of baking, I really recommend throwing together the compote; the recipe below made far more than was necessary to accessorize this dish, and we therefore ate it with everything we could think of for several days. It was most notably delicious for breakfast one morning, when I prepared an open-faced sandwich of toast, arugula, bacon, a poached egg, and a little bit of compote. It worked ridiculously well and was one of the most interesting/exciting breakfasts I have prepared in a long time! (And I love cooking breakfast.)
1 cup stone ground grits
5 1/3 cups water
1 ear’s worth of corn
5 stalks of rhubarb, coarsely chopped
1/4 cup sugar*
1 lime, zested
2 slices of bacon chopped into strips
1 onion, chopped
A glob of butter
1/2 cup of cheddar, grated
A dozen frozen shrimp, thawed
Salt and pepper to taste
Bring 5 cups of the water, salted, to a boil. Once it reaches a boil, turn the heat down low and stir in the grits carefully, making sure to avoid clumps. Cook this way, stirring often, until the mixture is creamy, thick and pulls away from the sides of the pan a bit, about 35-45 minutes.
In the meantime, put the compote on. In a small saucepan, combine the rhubarb, 1/3 cup of water, and sugar and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and let it simmer until the rhubarb is nice and soft and the mixture has thickened a bit.
When the grits look like they’re almost done, get started on the topping. Over medium-high heat, saute the bacon pieces and onion until they both start to brown. Add in the corn, and stir for a couple of minutes until it cooks a bit. At the very, very end, throw in the shrimp, and cook for just a couple of minutes longer, to let them heat through and get a little crispy. Season the mixture.
At the same time, once the grits seem just about done, stir in the cheddar and a generous glob of butter, and season (be generous with the salt!). Remove from the heat.
Serve grits with shrimp mixture on top and a little bit of rhubarb compote. Enjoy!
*As I previously stated, this ratio of sugar to rhubarb made for a pretty tart compote, which I loved, but if you prefer things a little bit on the sweeter side, then definitely up the sugar!