Wednesday, January 6, 2010
Kiss My Grits
Sorry for the long absence folks, but between the holidays and a food styling gig, I've clearly been otherwise engaged. Despite being MIA, I did get my first winter CSA box. While I didn't expect the kind of squeal-inducing produce that I received over the summer, I was pleasantly surprised to see gorgeous rainbow swiss chard among the pounds of potatoes, beets, carrots, squash and cabbage. I'd been waiting all year to make a dish that I found on a photographer's website while searching for photo inspiration. It appeared to have made excellent use of the lovely multi-hued greens, or at least that's what I got from the photo. Somehow I managed to go through all of 2009 without making it despite seeing the photo almost everyday and telling myself that it'd be a beautiful and easy dish. I thought of it often, but as almost always is the case, I went with something I already knew.
So finally, as things returned to normal and the Christmas season began to fade away, I flipped through my file of photo inspiration hoping to find a new way of using my winter CSA produce. As soon as I saw the photo it hit me that if I didn't make the swiss chard dish now, I'd probably never make it. It also helped that the greens were the most delicate of all my vegetables and likely the first to spoil. In the photo, a heaping pile of rainbow swiss chard rests on a bed of fluffy yellow polenta. It had been enticing me for a year, daring me to find a more comforting winter dish. With the photo as my guide I took to my pantry in search of polenta. I usually buy the cheapest possible cornmeal in the grocery store, foregoing the teeny tiny specialty packages labeled as polenta for the gargantuan, affordable ones labeled as cornmeal and located in the baking aisle near the flour. You could also buy grits, which are typically made with white hominy corn instead of yellow, but cornmeal is cheaper and usually worth more bang for your buck in terms of quantity (and quality wise I find they're the same, because in fact, they are). I like my polenta the way I like my grits--with heaps of salty butter and creamy cheese--and so, no matter what the preparation may have been in the photo, mine would simply consist of butter and cheese (with a dash of milk for creaminess and a big twist of white pepper for a little heat).
Once that was decided I figured I'd prepare the greens on the spicy side, the way I really like them, simply sauteed in olive oil with lots of garlic and red pepper flake. Departing from the photo I topped my dish with shrimp cooked similarly to the greens, creating a play on shrimp and grits. The shrimp were juicy and plump and cooked up in no time at all (honestly, if you're cooking shrimp more than 5-7 minutes they're probably overdone), as did the rest of the dish. The polenta is what takes the longest to prepare, but if you're really in a pinch you could use quick cooking grits or polenta. I'd say this is about a 30 minute meal already, but quick cooking grits would cut the time down to at least 20 minutes. But the truth is that despite the short cooking time the final dish manages to be both homey and elegant, two adjectives that popped into my mind when I first set eyes on my inspiration photo. I'd hoped that the shrimp would add enough protein to make it into a complete dish without cramping the elegant style of my inspiration dish. It ended up working out for the best, I think in fact adding a touch of sophistication to the overall dish. In the future I think I'll try it again with some kind of broth in the bottom of the bowl for a little added oomph--lately I've been daydreaming of the gorgeous meyer lemons that are currently in season, so maybe a nice lemony broth to contrast the rich polenta and spicy shrimp and greens. Stay tuned!
Spicy "Shrimp and Grits" with Rainbow Swiss Chard
16 jumbo shrimp, peeled and deveined
6 cups rainbow swiss chard (or beet greens), washed and chopped
1 cup polenta or grits
4 cups chicken or vegetable stock
3 Tbsp butter (I like salted for this)
4 large or 6 small garlic cloves, finely sliced
1 tsp red pepper flakes, divided
1/4 cup milk
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese (or any cheese of your liking)
extra virgin olive oil
1. Bring stock to a boil and stir in polenta/grits and 1 Tbsp of butter. Simmer over medium-low heat, stirring frequently until cooked through, about 30 minutes. If using quick cook polenta/grits, save this for the last step.
2. Meanwhile, heat olive oil, swiss chard stems, half of the garlic and half of the red pepper flakes in a non-stick skillet. Add the greens in batches if necessary and cook until wilted. Set aside.
3. Heat olive oil and the remaining garlic and red pepper flake in another skillet. Add shrimp and cook on each side until pink and tender. Stir cheese, milk and remaining butter into the cooked polenta/grits and plate, topping with swiss chard and 4 shrimp. Spoon garlic oil and bits of garlic over shrimp and serve. Enjoy!