Rosey the Riveter

Monday, February 27, 2017

Pimento Grits ala Vivian Howard

March is the month where two of my cooking challenges collide.  The March Food52 Cookbook Club book is "Deep Run Roots."  I've been cooking through it for awhile now with my friends back in VA.

Two years ago, before we moved to Guam, we celebrated my birthday with a road-trip to Kinston, NC and ate at "The Chef and the Farmer" and also "The Boiler Room".  It was one of those memories I will never forget.  I had watched all of the episodes of "A Chef's Life" on PBS and felt like I knew Vivian.  Her food was amazing.  So of course, when she came out with her first cookbook, I had to have it.
My friends and I have been tackling the chapters one at a time, saving the summer foods for, well, summer.  February was "Ground Corn" month and so I chose to make the "Pimento Cheese Grits with Salsa and Chips"  (you can find a similar version of hers here).  I'm a New England girl, y'all... the first time I ever had grits was at the Chef and the Farmer and no one was more surprised than I was when I absolutely fell in love with the 'Dirty Grits' with sausage and chicken livers (pictured above).

I promise that I speak the truth when I say that I intended to make the pimento from scratch, from the recipe that is also in the book.  I have a jar of pimentos in my pantry to prove it.  But really, now... did I honestly think the Commissary here would carry white cheddar?  When I saw the $1.50 container of ready-made pimento cheese, I grabbed it.

I started out with the grits in a homemade double-boiler.  After the recommended time, they still hadn't really thickened, so I put them directly on the heat and that did the trick perfectly.

I transferred them to a cast iron pan and dropped spoonfuls of pimento cheese on top, then spread it (do not try the wax paper tip from Vivian with store-bought, it's too sticky and wet to roll out) and popped it in the oven.

At this point, it was time to make the 'salsa'... which I would call more of a pico de gallo.  The 'tomatoes' we get here are notoriously awful.  Barely orange on the shelf, refrigerated, and don't even think about letting them ripen because they'll be a soft mess in about 12 hours.  But I bought a couple just for this recipe, chopped up some purple onion, threw in a couple of frozen cilantro/evoo cubes, and called it good.

The cheesy grits came out of the oven as bubbly goodness and I added the salsa on top.  It just seems wrong, but I served it with "Hint of Lime" chips (our favorite), and called the family to try.  We literally stood at the counter, scooping directly from the hot pan on the stove until the bag of chips was almost gone.  It was truly that good.  Even the picky 13 year old scooped around the onions and wolfed it down.

I will say it's better served warm than cold, but that didn't keep me from finishing off the leftovers straight out of the fridge.  This would make a great appetizer, assuming you are hosting the party and can serve it warm, or you know your hostess well and can heat it in her oven before serving.  I don't think it would travel well after cooking.

The next time I make it, I think I will only use half of the grits called for (or double the salsa) because I think I would prefer that ratio better.  But none the less, this one is another winner.

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