notes from maggie's farm
Earlier this week, we got busy roasting our Hatch chiles for our favorite chile-enhanced dishes. Today, a family favorite.
Although Hatch chile season coincides with the hottest days of summer, their roasty, toasty flavor always reminds me of Christmas. Christmas? Yep, Christmas.
Every Christmas morning, from the holidays of my grown girls' early childhood to the sweet ceremony of just two, through changes in casts of characters and scenery, from Louisiana to Texas, from huge white-flocked trees to smaller, woods-chopped versions, from surroundings of boxes upon boxes, gifts upon gifts, wrapping paper strewn about to small and simple celebrations, one thing has remained constant. Cheese grits.
They began, in those early days, much like my mother's cheese grits. A tube of processed garlic cheese, a tube of processed pepper cheese, butter, and grits. They morphed into grand sausage-laden, garlicy, oniony casseroles. They made their way through, meatless, vegan cheese and field roast versions. They were transported to Christmases in Oklahoma and Texas. They were sent along in various containers, for those who wouldn't be with us some seasons. Those years when we, amazingly, had a few dollars left over after the grand gift-giving, they were accompanied by shrimp, and occasionally, grillades--veal medallions with red eye gravy--both regional traditions of the South.
For the past few years, we've settled on a favorite.
We celebrate the memory of summer, on cool Christmas mornings, by pulling out our frozen stash of roasted Hatch chiles, and combine them with superior ingredients: eggs from our own flock, the very best smoked cheddar cheese we can get our hands on, home-cured bacon (or, perhaps, cured in another's home, like what we'll find at the farmers market), and stone ground grits. Our favorite is the organic stone ground blue corn grits we find at the mill of Homestead Heritage in Elm Mott, Texas. We'll talk more about grits after the recipe.
First, a reminder about roasting Hatch chiles. You'll find various methods at this link, from earlier in the week. Today, we've used the broiler to make quick work of a small batch.
- Wash and dry peppers. Lay them flat on a silicone pad-lined baking sheet pan. (Alternatively, foil-lined, or even silicone sprayed or lightly oiled sheet pan will do.)
- Preheat oven broiler and adjust grate to just under the heating element. Place peppers under broiler, utilizing exhaust fan, because the aroma can be overpowering, and, sometimes, irritating to eyes and nose.
- Broil for about 8-10 minutes, or until skin is blistering and blackened. Remove from heat.
- Turn peppers, handling carefully to avoid burns, and return to broiler. Char peppers on opposite side.
- When fully-toasted, remove from oven, and carefully transfer all to a large bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and allow to steam and 'sweat', for about 30 minutes.
- After steaming, skin will be easy to remove simply by 'pinching' the charred skin, and pulling away. (While many suggest running peppers under a stream of water to easily remove skin, we recommend not using this method, as it washes away precious flavor.)
- Remove stems, stringy pith inside, and seeds, if you like your peppers mild. We retained some of the seeds, 'cause that's how we roll.
- Peppers may remain whole, sliced, or chopped for freezing. Slice into thin strips, then slice crosswise for uniform pieces for this dish.
Creamy, cheesy, smoky grits, infused with our precious bits of roasted Hatch chiles is comfort food at its finest. You can make these vegetarian by skipping the bacon, and vegan by substituting vegan versions of milk, cheese, and eggs. We're not either, so it's full-on bacon and dairy, along with the superior stone ground blue corn grit, for our favorite holiday tradition.
But, hey! Grits aren't just for breakfast, and they aren't just for our holiday tradition. We eat them all day long, and all year round, too! In fact, they'll be making an appearance at our next fellowship dinner at church. This recipe will yield 8 healthy breakfast main servings, and perhaps as many as 10-12 as a side.
2 cups cooked stone ground blue corn grits, prepared according to package directions with 4 cups of water, 4 cups of whole milk, and 2 tsp of salt (we used stone ground grits for the health benefits of whole grains, as well as their superior texture and taste. Feel free to substitute prepared stone ground yellow or white corn grits, hominy grits, quick-cooking grits, or instant grits, as well, cooking according to package directions.)
1 cup (about 8 large peppers) chopped roasted Hatch chiles (Can't find Hatch chiles? Substitute Anaheim, or New Mexico green chiles, instead. Don't have time for roasting chiles? Use canned--there are even roasted green chiles in cans available these days.)
8 ounces smoked cheddar cheese, grated (Want these really cheesy-gooey fabulous? It would not ruin them to as much as double the cheese suggested here. We love cheese, too!) Reserve a little for garnish. Or double the amount and use a lot for garnish. C'mon.
8 slices thick-sliced bacon, prepared by broiling 5 minutes on one side, flipping, then 2 minutes on the additional side (see note, above, on the bacon, too. We fried the whole pound, reserved some for garnish, then nibbled as we cooked, because that is also how we roll.)
4 whole eggs
kosher salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
In a lightly oiled casserole dish, combine eggs, cheese, bacon, and green chiles. Stir in hot, prepared grits, (being careful not to come in contact with grits, which will be the approximate temperature of molten lava) and combine well. Correct seasonings. Cover, and bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for 50 minutes. Remove cover, (add additional cheese, if using), and cook additional 10 minutes, or until top is bubbly and browned. Allow to cool before serving. Garnish with reserved crumbled bacon, and, heck, maybe even more cheese. Chives are a nice, healthier touch, too.
Grits are cooked, milled corn, made into a porridge or cereal product, much like oatmeal. Part of the beauty of grits is the variability in texture, color and taste. The final taste of grits is unique to the corn variety and farm where the corn was grown, the milling process, and the unique cooking process and ingredients the cook uses to impart flavor.
Grits are made from yellow, blue and white corn; blue and white being preferable to yellow, as they are less starchy. The corn is dried and processed with lye or ash. Whole processed corn is often referred to as hominy, ground hominy as grits.
Instant grits, available everywhere, have had the germ removed to speed up cooking time. Stone ground grits remain whole grains, thus healthier, and can be eaten as one of the three recommended daily whole grain servings.
Expect stone-ground grits, available at small mills, health food stores and some supermarkets, to simmer about 40 minutes. One cup of stone ground grits should be cooked in 4 cups of liquid; the addition of whole milk as part of all of liquid yields a creamier result. Add additional liquid at end of simmering time if grits are too thick or dry. Consistency should be about that of oatmeal, or thin mashed potatoes.
Learn more about grits:
Video: What's So Great About Grits?
Grits: This Southern Staple Isn't Just For Breakfast
World Grits Festival