Award-winning chef, author and recipe developer Virginia Willis has a new cookbook out that will revitalize your love of Southern cooking like never before. Grab a copy and prepare to bake, batter and biscuit your way to a more delicious dinner. These parmesan cheese grits with shrimp get a healthy kick from fresh spinach.
My first job cooking was on a TV-cooking show hosted by the grande dame of Southern cooking, Nathalie Dupree. I stayed on after the series taping ended and apprenticed with her for another year before she sent me off to culinary school. While I come from a strong culinary background—my mother is an excellent cook, as was her mother before her—I often say that “Nathalie took me out of my mother’s kitchen.” She exposed me to things I had never seen or heard of, and most certainly had never tasted or cooked. She’s helped me and guided me my entire career. While she’s always going to be my mentor, she’s now become a very dear friend, and I love her very much.
Nathalie uses vast quantities of heavy cream to cook grits, and I tease her that the result is more akin to heavy cream thickened with ground corn than grits—delicious, but very, very rich. This recipe, inspired by hers, is a bit cleaner and simpler. Once upon a time, shrimp and grits was solely a food of the less fortunate—corn was cheap or farmed at home, and shrimp harvested from the creek or ocean was free for the taking, as long as you had a net. Now it has become a ubiquitous Southern dish seen from white-tablecloth restaurants to fast-casual diners.
- 2 tablespoons pure olive oil
- 1 sweet onion, grated
- 1 garlic clove, very finely chopped
- 2 cups 2% milk
- 2 cups water
- 1/4 cup heavy cream (optional)
- Coarse kosher salt
- 1 cup whole-grain stone-ground or coarse-ground grits
- 3 cups spinach, stems removed and coarsely chopped
- 1/2 pound large (21/25-count) shrimp, peeled and deveined, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
- Pinch of cayenne pepper
- 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese (1 ounce)
- freshly ground black pepper
For the grits
Heat the oil in a heavy-bottomed medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and cook until soft and transparent, about 3 minutes. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, 45 to 60 seconds. Add the milk, water, cream (if using), and 1 teaspoon salt. Bring the mixture to a boil over high heat. Whisk in the grits, decrease the heat to low, and simmer, whisking occasionally, until the grits are creamy and thick, 45 to 60 minutes.
Stir in the spinach and shrimp. Cook until the shrimp are firm and white, about 2 minutes. Add the cayenne and cheese; taste and adjust for seasoning with salt and pepper. Ladle into warmed bowls and serve immediately.