ASSOCIATED PRESS Enlarge
During a recent visit to a food festival in South Carolina, I was lucky enough to be invited to the home of Nathalie Dupree, cookbook author and Southern entertainer extraordinaire.
An hour before, I'd listened as she spoke on a panel with other female chefs discussing the challenges of being a woman in a male-dominated field. I loved her candor and strong opinions, the stories of her mother wanting her to be a lady -- a Southern lady -- above all else. I was amused, because to me Ms. Dupree always has been the epitome of a Southern lady.
And one thing Southern ladies know how to do is set out a killer cocktail buffet. Even though I was on my way to dinner, I could not resist Ms. Dupree's buffet.
There was a Dixie cassoulet complete with charming lady peas, a delicious salad of arugula, pecans, and perfect slices of avocado with a classic sherry vinaigrette, a stuffed and rolled beef tenderloin, new asparagus, and many other dishes. But the dish that I could not keep my spoon out of was a simple rendition of Low Country shrimp and grits.
I love shrimp and grits almost as much as I love barbecue, and have eaten it and cooked it more times than I can count. But this version was different.
I took a spoonful of the shrimp already mixed into the creamy white stone-ground grits and noticed that they looked poached. Then I took a bite. The sweet shrimp tasted like the sea and the texture was tender and pristine. I instantly realized Nathalie's shortcut, which was also her brilliance.
The one drawback to shrimp and grits is that often the shrimp -- which traditionally are sauteed separately -- end up tough and overcooked. Ms. Dupree found a simple way around this. I couldn't help myself, and I blurted out, "Nathalie, did you put raw shrimp in the simmering grits?"
"Yes, I did," she nonchalantly replied. "And I sometimes put a handful of spinach in there too."
I couldn't wait to get home to try a new kind of shrimp and grits recipe. Since I was no longer in shrimp country, I bought frozen shrimp, baby spinach, and grape tomatoes.
I made the grits with my favorite Anson Mills stone ground grits and two cheeses, Boursin and cheddar. When the grits were seasoned and ready, I added the raw shrimp. I watched as they turned from gray to pink and curled up just so. Just before I was ready to serve the dish, in went a few large handfuls of spinach.
Just before serving, I topped the steaming bowl with sliced grape tomatoes and a quick grate of Parmesan cheese. It was every bit as good as I hoped it would be!
Shrimp and Grits with Spinach and Tomatoes
3 cups water
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 cup Anson Mills grits or other corn grits (see cook's note)
Half of a 5.2-ounce wheel of Boursin cheese
1/2 cup grated sharp cheddar cheese
1/2 to 1 teaspoon kosher salt, to taste
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 pound raw shrimp, peeled and deveined
3 cups baby spinach
1/2 cup grape tomatoes, halved
Cook's note: Anson Mills grits are hand milled to a coarser grind than most other varieties of grits. If you can't find them, any variety of corn grits can be substituted.
In a 4-quart Dutch oven over medium-high, combine the water and butter. Bring to a boil, then add the grits, stirring as you do so. Return to a boil, then reduce heat to low to maintain a simmer. Cook, alternating with the lid on and off, for 30 to 40 minutes, or until soft but not mushy. If they get too stiff, add milk or water. The grits should be loose and creamy.
Stir in the Boursin and cheddar cheeses, and the salt and pepper. Add the shrimp, stir and let simmer until cooked through, about 4 minutes.
Just before serving, stir in the spinach and let wilt for 2 minutes. Garnish with the tomatoes and a generous amount of grated Parmesan.
Yield: 4 servings