Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Shrimp and Grits, sort of

I have made "real" shrimp and grits before. I love them. My mom grew up in the South, so we often had grits as a breakfast side dish growing up. Sometimes sweetened with sugar, a nice companion to salty scrambled eggs; or savory with cheese, which is perfect with any syrup covered breakfast goodness. Grits are almost more of a textural thing, as on their own they don't have much going on. They become more of a vehicle for other flavors, although once you simmer them with liquid and stir in fats such as cream and butter, aromatics such as garlic, shallot, green onion...they become something else all together. They are up there on my comfort food list along with mashed potatoes.
Grits are made from hominy, which is the dried corn kernel after the germ and hull have been removed. Grits are also what the Italians call polenta, which ok there's a slight difference in the type of corn used and a slight textural difference, but essentially is the same thing. When I make a grits dish, I use old-fashioned (not quick-cooking) grits. When I make polenta i use regular old yellow cornmeal. The resulting outcome is similar and in my opinion one could be exchanged for the other. Alton Brown probably did a show about this and there may be some foodies out there who dispute this, but c'est la vie.
Last night I had a windowsill with a small row of happy round ripe tomatoes from my parent's garden. Not enough to make marinara sauce with (and did not feel like blanching, skinning, etc), no peppers or cilantro on hand to make salsa.
They became the supporting role in what I'm calling Shrimp and Grits, sort of. Or Parmesan-Polenta Stuffed Tomatoes with Spicy Shrimp. Whatever...it was good and I'm always happy when I find a good way to use up a food on hand. Here goes:


For the polenta stuffed tomatoes:

1 Tbs. butter
1 Tbs. diced shallot (or minced red onion would work or in a total pinch a shake of onion powder)
1 clove garlic, minced
3 cups chicken or veg broth
1/2 cup half and half
1 cup yellow corn meal
a pinch each of fresh or dried thyme and rosemary (optional)
1/4 cup plus 2 Tbs or so of fresh or dried parmesan cheese
salt & pepper
4 - 8 large tomatoes

In a medium saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter. Add the shallot and garlic and cook, stirring constantly, about 2 minutes. Add the broth, bring to a boil. Add the half and half and then whisk in the polenta in a steady stream while stirring. Reduce the heat to a simmer, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon. Add the thyme and rosemary and continue to cook, stirring frequently, until the polenta is tender, creamy, and thick, 5 mins or so. Remove from the heat and whisk in 1/4 cup of the cheese. Season to taste with s & p.

Preheat oven to 400° F (I used my toaster oven -worked great). Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper or foil. Halve the tomatoes lengthwise and hollow them out. Cut a very thin slice off the bottom of each tomato half so the filled tomato can lie flat without rolling. Arrange the tomatoes on the baking sheet and season them lightly with salt. Fill each tomato half with some of the polenta, mounding just slightly (depending on the size of your tomatoes, you may or may not use all the polenta). Sprinkle the remaining cheese over each. Bake until the tomatoes are soft and cheese is golden, about 20 minutes. Let cool slightly before serving.

NOTE: If you do not have tomatoes, just make the cornmeal mixture. If you don’t have parmesan, use sharp cheddar! This would be more traditional “shrimp and grits”. Serve the shrimp over the cornmeal/polenta mixture.

For the Shrimp:

1 tsp. Tabasco, Habenaro or other hot sauce (Frank’s is great!); more to taste
½ to 1 lb. large shrimp, peeled and deveined
2 Tbs. Worcestershire sauce

2-3 Tbs butter

A splash of half and half

Heat 1 Tbs. of the butter in a 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat. Add the shrimp and season with s & p. Cook until the shrimp is opaque about 2 to 3 minutes. Reduce the heat to low and add the Worcestershire sauce and hot sauce, stir. Add the remaining 2-1/2 Tbs. butter and a splash of half/half, stir to melt/mix. Season to taste with salt, pepper, and more hot sauce.

Make sure to spoon some of the sauce over the polenta tomatoes, yum!

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