I couldn't be more delighted that the chilly winds that are blowing around, sending the maple leaves swirling and opening up our view of the James more and more with each passing moment, are bringing a succession of my beloved friends from all over the world to visit in the coming weeks.
First up this week was my adored friend Sarah Hazlegrove who dropped in from her whirlwind "Tobacco People" project which is taking her to seemingly every corner of the globe. I caught a glimpse of her between Indonesia and Brazil, as well as her more usual France, and was even able to turn my camera on her. What a nice change as she she's always taking my picture, as you can see from her handiwork on my "about me" page. She's some photographer.
Anyway, aside from being an incredible photographer, she's also one of my dearest friends, and one I love to fuss over and cook for when I can tie her down long enough. Actually, we've got a pretty festive procedure perfected by now. I cook merrily away and she sits in the kitchen with me catching up. While we catch up, we also skypefar-flung other friends and loved ones around the world and catch up with them too. We had a great conversation with Sarah's son Ben Hazlegrove who's recording music in LA at the moment with his cool new band Mansions on the Moon. By the time we stopped skyping my cheeks literally hurt I'd been smiling and laughing so much.
Anyway, while all of this partying was going on in my kitchen, I decided to make something for Sarah which she most likely wouldn't be enjoying in Indonesia, France or Brazil--namely shrimp and grits. What could be easier or more evocative of a different corner of the world than those she's been tramping through of late?
With my beloved James Villas as my guide, I came up with a very easy and delectable rendition, which struck the perfect note in our festivities. Sarah told me that it's very difficult to properly photograph gravy, which made me feel much better about my efforts. In other words, the picture may not be pretty, but man oh man, was it delicious. She didn't say so, but I bet it stood up just fine against any of those Indonesian grits she must have been eating of late. Hmmm, wonder how Brazillian grits are gonna rate?
Shrimp and Grits
For the grits:
6 cups water
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 1/2 cups grits (preferably stone-ground but emphatically NOT instant)
3 cups half-and-half
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into pieces
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
For the sauce:
1 tablespoon peanut oil
12 ounces andouille sausage, coarsly chopped
2 small onions , peeled and chopped
1/2 medium green bell pepper, chopped
1 medium red bell pepper, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon sweet paprika
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 1/2 pounds fresh, medium shrimp, peeled
1 1/2 cups chicken broth
1/4 heavy cream
To make the grits, bring the water to a roaring boil in a large, heavy saucepan, add the salt, and gradually add the grits, stirring with a wooden spoon for about 5 minutes. Add the half-and-half and butter and bring to a simmer, stirring. Cover and cook the grits slowly till very smooth and creamy, stirring from time to time, for 50 to 60 minutes. Season with pepper and taste for salt.
While the grits are cooking, make the sauce. Heat the oil over moderate heat in a large, heavy skillet. Add the sausage and cook, stirring for 3 minutes. Add the onions, both bell peppers, garlic, paprika, thyme, oregano and salt and pepper and cook, stirring until the vegetables are softened, about 3 minutes. Add the shrimp and cook, stirring for 2 to 3 minutes. Add the chicken broth and cook, stirring, till slightly reduced, about 5 minutes. Add the cream, return to a simmer, and cook, stirring, till the sauce is slightly thickened, 5 to 7 minutes. Remove the sauce from the heat.
To serve, reheat the sauce until hot and spoon mounds of grits on hot serving plates and spoon sauce over the hot grits.
--Adapted from The Glory of Southern Cooking by James Villas (John Wiley and Sons, Inc.)