Grits, Greens, and Eggs
I’ve had some Anson Mills Pencil Cob Grits in my freezer for almost a year, and that’s too long. I like to buy grits from this wonderful mill every year, because all of the products from Anson are so fresh, and each harvest should be savored.
I serve the grits with eggs always, sunny side up or easy over. There is nothing like that luxurious taste of egg yolk oozing into creamy grits, especially if the grits are from Anson Mills and the eggs are a gift from my friend John Lyons’ hens. If I want to do something more elaborate for breakfast or for brunch I’ll usually make huevos rancheros over grits, with the grits standing in for corn tortillas.
Lately I’ve been eating my grits at dinner, and most often I serve them with seasoned blanched greens and eggs. I make the greens as a matter of course every week, with a generous bunch of red swiss chard or beet greens that I bring home from my farmers market. Those greens are great to have on hand as a side dish or an accompaniment to pasta, grits or polenta, or as the main ingredient in a gratin. The instructions for cooking the grits are courtesy of Kate Rentschler, creative director of Anson Mills.
Grits with Greens and Eggs
Yield: Serves 4
1 cup Anson Mills Colonial Coarse Pencil Cob Grits
1 1/4 to 1 1/2 pounds Swiss chard (or 1 pound other greens such as turnip greens, beet greens or kale)
2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
2 garlic cloves, minced (1 if cloves are very large)
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes (to taste, optional)
1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
1 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary
Freshly ground pepper
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
4 eggs (or 8, if desired)
Optional: Parmesan, salsa or hot sauce for serving
1. Place grits in a heavy, medium saucepan (Renschler recommends a type called a Windsor saucepan; I used a Le Creuset). Add 2 cups spring or filtered water and stir once. Allow grits to settle a full minute, then tilt the pan and, using a fine tea strainer or fine skimmer, skim off and discard chaff and hulls. Cover and allow the grits to soak overnight at room temperature. If your kitchen is very warm, place in refrigerator.
2. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Meanwhile, stem the greens and wash the leaves in 2 changes of water. If using chard, finely dice the stems and set aside. Fill a bowl with cold water or ice water.
3. When the water in the pot comes to a boil add enough salt to make it taste like the ocean, and add the greens. Blanch for about 1 minute, just until tender (2 minutes for kale). Using a slotted spoon, a spider or a Chinese skimmer (my favorite), scoop the greens out of the water and transfer to the bowl of cold water.
4. Drain greens. Take up handfuls and squeeze hard to get rid of excess water. When I am storing the blanched greens in the refrigerator, I squeeze the water out by the handful, then put all the little balls of greens into a bowl (cover and chill if not using right away). Cut strips in one direction across the squeezed ball of greens, then turn the ribbons a quarter turn and cut in strips again. Then you can chop them more finely if you wish by rocking your knife up and down over the pile of greens.
5. Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil over medium heat in a heavy, large skillet and add minced stems. Cook, stirring, until tender, about 5 minutes, and add minced garlic. Cook until the garlic begins to sizzle and smell fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add pepperoncini, thyme and rosemary, stir together for a few seconds, then add greens and stir and toss in the pan for about a minute, until greens are nicely infused with the oil, garlic and herbs. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Remove from the heat but keep warm.
6. To cook the grits, heat 2 cups water in a small saucepan to a bare simmer and keep hot (you can also use an electric kettle). Set saucepan with grits over medium heat. Bring to a simmer, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until the first starch takes hold (this means that the mixture will begin to thicken and you will no longer have to stir constantly). Reduce heat to the lowest possible setting. The grits should not be bubbling, they should be sighing, or breathing like somebody in a deep, comfortable sleep, rising up lazily in one big bubble, then falling as the bubble bursts. Watch carefully and each time they are thick enough to hold a spoon upright, stir in about 1/4 cup of the hot water. Stir in the salt after the first 10 minutes of gentle cooking. It should take about 25 minutes for the grits to be tender and creamy and by this time you should have added 3/4 to 1 cup water (perhaps a little more) in 3 or 4 additions.
7. When the grits are done – tender, creamy but not mushy, and able to hold their shape on a spoon – stir in the butter vigorously, add pepper, taste (carefully – don’t burn your tongue after all that care) and adjust salt.
8. Fry the eggs sunny side up or however you like them in the remaining 2 teaspoons olive oil. Spoon grits onto plates, top with greens and top the greens with an egg (or two). If desired, sprinkle on some Parmesan or spoon or drizzle on some salsa or hot sauce.