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I never had grits till I was well into my adult years, so they aren't the familiar comfort food for me that they seem to be for many Americans from the south. I had them at a Cajun restaurant once - cheese grits, they were, and pretty delicious too - but it was kind of dark and I couldn't quite figure out what they were made from, or how. An e2 user told me you made them with Quaker instant grits - nothing that is on the supermarket shelves here in Toronto, and even if it were, I don't think I'd really make them from something "instant", which generally denotes an overprocessed product that is less tasty than something that takes a little more time.

Finally, I found a recipe that indicated that grits - slow cook grits - are basically cornmeal, or maybe hominy (ground corn processed with lye). I also realized that it's prepared in a similar way to polenta, which I make regularly. Although enlightening, this didn't motivate me to make grits, because after all, I make polenta instead, and it's really good!

Then I found a recipe in Joy of Cooking for baked cheese grits. Now this sounds promising, I thought. Quite different from polenta (at least, how I make it), this dish is baked in the oven and puffs nicely, as any soufflé-type dish should. I've adapted it to incorporate fresh corn (maize, sweetcorn) to up the flavour quotient. In addition, my version is baked in individual ramekins rather than a soufflé dish: it cooks more quickly and looks impressive, with each diner enjoying their own individual dome of golden goodness. Not too complicated, and very delicious.

What you need to make enough for four as a substantial side dish

  • 2 cups (480 ml) water
  • pinch salt
  • 1/4 cup (60 ml) coarsely ground cornmeal (may also work with slow-cooking grits)
  • 1 tablespoon (15 ml) unsalted butter
  • 1 small shallot, chopped
  • 1 small clove garlic, chopped
  • 1 ear fresh corn, kernels removed with a sharp knife (this can get a bit messy); you could probably substitute about 1 cup (240 ml) frozen corn, thawed
  • 1 cup grated cheddar cheese
  • 2 large eggs, separated (if it's too much work to separate the eggs and beat the whites, just leave them whole: the soufflés won't rise so high, but will still be light and delicious)
  • 1/4 cup (60 ml) milk
  • pinch hot pepper flakes

What to do

Preheat the oven to 350°F (170°C). Generously butter four ramekins.

Bring the water to the boil in a medium saucepan. Add salt, then add the grits/cornmeal in a slow steady stream, stirring constantly. Don't dump it all in, or it will get lumpy, and that's not nice: pour it in slowly. Lower the heat, cover and simmer, stirring frequently with a wooden spoon, until thick, about 20 minutes.

In the meantime, melt the butter in a frying pan. Saute the shallot until translucent, then add the garlic and corn and saute, stirring frequently, for about 3 minutes, till corn softens slightly. Remove from heat.

Stir the cheese and the onion/corn mixture into the grits/cornmeal. Whisk the milk and yolks together (or whole eggs if you're taking the easy route), add the hot pepper flakes, then gradually mix into the grits.

Beat the egg whites in a clean, oil-free bowl with clean beaters until soft peaks form, then gently fold into the grits/cornmeal until just combined.

Scrape the mixture into the ramekins, pop in the oven, and bake until the tops are nicely golden brown, about 20-25 minutes. Serve immediately.

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