Italy vs. The South

I think I have another favorite food.

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Some days when I am lazy and don’t feel like cooking, Dave takes the reins on dinner and wonderful things happen. If you were from the south, you might say these were “the best darn tooting shrimp n’ grits I ever ate.” If you lived in Italy, you might say “the combination of succulent marinated and sauteed shrimp over a bed of creamy polenta was simply mouthwatering.”

Does one region have a better taste for food? When it comes to cooked cornmeal, I think not.

Dave had a delicious breakfast last summer at the Mustard Seed Cafe in Bellevue and ever since, he’s wanted to make shrimp and grits at home.

We are both well schooled in Alton Brown’s school of thought regarding grits vs. polenta, having watched the episode of Good Eats entitled “True Grit.” Alton: Although there are many, many differences between here – the southern United States – and here – Northern Italy – the absorption rate of water into a tiny grain of cornmeal is not one of them. And that means that grits and polenta are exactly the same thing.”

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Basically, grits and polenta both start from cornmeal and it’s the type of liquid and seasoning you add that determines the dish. While grits traditionally contain whole milk while polenta is cooked in broth or stock. Knowing this, Dave followed AB’s Savory Polenta recipe, with some delicious adaptations.

Savory Polenta 

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil, plus extra for grilling or sauteing if desired
  • 3/4 cup finely chopped onion
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely minced
  • 5 cups vegetable broth
  • 1 cup coarse ground cornmeal
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 4 ounces Parmesan, grated
  • hot sauce

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

In a large, oven-safe saucepan heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion and salt and sweat until the onions begin to turn translucent, approximately 4 to 5 minutes. Reduce the heat to low, add the garlic, and saute for 1 to 2 minutes, making sure the garlic does not burn.

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Turn the heat up to high, add the vegetable broth, bring to a boil. Gradually add the cornmeal while continually whisking. Once you have added all of the cornmeal, cover the pot and place it in the oven. Cook for 35 to 40 minutes, stirring every
10 minutes to prevent lumps. Once the mixture is creamy, remove from the oven and add the butter, salt, and pepper. Once they are incorporated, gradually add the Parmesan.

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While Dave was cooking the polenta (and I was in the living room watching Bones and running in sporadically to take photos), he pulled out some marinated shrimp to saute.

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The shrimp were marinated in a mixture of lemon juice, fresh lime juice, olive oil, capers, and red pepper flakes and sauteed over medium heat until they turned pink. He topped the polenta with the shrimp and added a poached egg on top.

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This was so. good. I was full, and I could not stop eating it. The polenta was creamy and cheesy, almost like a fine risotto, and the shrimp were so juicy. I added extra hot sauce to mine, and the combination of all the textures and flavors was just…awesome.

I don’t care if you call them grits or polenta, just don’t call me late for dinner.

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