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Bert Greene's Kitchen

South Rises to Challenge of Northern Cuisine

June 19, 1986| Greene is a New York-based food columnist

Things may not be perfect in the heart of the Deep South, but lack of good manners and grace cannot be numbered as one of this territory's social deficiencies.

An initial encounter with room service at my hotel in Birmingham, Ala., may give some idea of Birmingham's friendliness. Perusing the early bird menu next to my bed and knowing that I probably would not dine again for at least eight hours, I opted for a big breakfast--fruit, cereal, eggs, country-fried ham and coffee, which did not faze the kitchen help in the least.

Grits, the ground hulls of dried corn, is said to be an acquired taste. I can't make a judgment in the matter since I acquired my taste as a college student in Virginia too long ago to remember. Down South, grits are most often served for breakfast alongside sunnyside-up eggs, ham and bacon. Try it in two new versions of mine. The first, a pepper-dappled side dish; the other, a bacon- and cheese-flecked souffle.

CONFETTI GRITS

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 green onion, finely chopped

1 1/2 cups water

1/2 cup milk, about

1/2 cup white hominy grits

1 large plum tomato, seeded and chopped

1 tablespoon chopped basil

Salt, pepper

Melt butter in medium saucepan over medium-low heat. Add green onion and cook 2 minutes. Stir in water and 1/2 cup milk. Heat to boiling.

Reduce heat and stir in grits. Cook, stirring constantly, until creamy and tender, about 5 minutes. Add more milk if mixture becomes too thick.

Stir tomato and basil into grits. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Makes 4 servings.

Note: Stone-ground hominy grits are recommended for this recipe. These may require 1/2 cup more milk during cooking.

BACON AND CHEESE GRITS SOUFFLE

1 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter

1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

4 strips bacon

1 small white onion, finely chopped

1 small clove garlic, minced

1 cup water

1 cup milk

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup white hominy grits

4 egg yolks

1/8 teaspoon grated nutmeg

1/2 cup shredded Jack cheese with hot peppers

1/4 cup whipping cream

Pepper

5 egg whites

Rub 1-quart souffle dish with 1/2 tablespoon butter and sprinkle with 1 tablespoon Parmesan cheese. Set aside in cool place.

Saute bacon in heavy skillet until crisp. Remove bacon and drain on paper towels. Remove all but 2 tablespoons bacon drippings from skillet.

Add onion to bacon drippings in skillet. Cook over medium-low heat 1 minute. Add garlic and cook until golden, about 3 minutes longer. Set aside.

Combine water, milk and salt in medium saucepan. Heat to boiling. Stir in hominy grits. Reduce heat. Cook, stirring constantly, until thick and tender, about 5 minutes. Stir in remaining 1 tablespoon butter. Reduce heat to low and beat in egg yolks, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition.

Transfer grits mixture to large bowl. Crumble bacon and add to grits along with reserved onion-garlic mixture, nutmeg, Jack cheese, 2 tablespoons Parmesan cheese, whipping cream and season to taste with pepper.

Beat egg whites until stiff but not dry. Stir 1/3 of whites into grits mixture. Fold in remaining whites. Pour into prepared souffle dish and sprinkle top with remaining 1 tablespoon Parmesan cheese. Bake at 400 degrees 30 to 35 minutes. Makes 6 to 8 servings.

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