This dish reminds me of the movie “My Cousin Vinnie” with Joe Pesci, who plays a character from Brooklyn and is utterly perplexed when he first encountered grits in Alabama. That scene has long been a punch line to those who grew up outside of the south.
Loosely speaking, polenta is yellow flint corn that that has been coarsely ground, while grits are a white dent corn which has been more finely ground. Polenta is a staple of northern Italy, which some argue is a more refined or gentrified area of Italy. The main difference between flint and dent corn is that when dried, flint corn is harder and keeps longer in storage than the softer dent corn. So, for those of you who refuse to eat grits, but profess a deep respect and love of Italian artisan polenta…I hate to burst your bubble, but it’s all ground corn.
Roasted Garlic Jack Cheese Polenta/Grits
This is an extremely quick and easy dish to whip up when you want a change from rice or potatoes. You can easily make this vegetarian by using vegetable stock instead of chicken stock.
- 6 cloves roasted garlic (peel garlic and roast with olive oil at 350 for 8-9 minutes)
- 1 tsp fresh thyme cleaned and chopped
- 1 1/2 cup heavy cream
- 1 1/2 cup chicken stock (substitute vegetable stock for vegetarian option)
- 1/2 tsp cayenne
- 1 cup polenta, yellow (yellow grits maybe substituted)
- 1/2 cup Monterrey Jack, shredded (Parmesan, goat cheese and Oaxaca can be substituted)
- 1/4 cup Parmesan (optional)
- 1 pinch salt
- 1 pinch black pepper
- 2 tbsp olive oil
Preheat an oven to 350 degrees.
In a small oven-safe pan add 6 cloves of peeled garlic. Drizzle with olive oil and a small pinch of salt.
Roast the garlic in the oven for approximately 8-9 minutes or until the cloves of garlic are soft and slightly dark brown, but not black. The cloves should be soft, not hard and crunchy.
Remove garlic from the oven and place on a cutting board. Place the flat side of a knife over the garlic and press down on the the knife to smash the garlic against the side of the knife (being careful to avoid the blade). Do this with all of the garlic cloves. Briefly chop the garlic. It should be very soft, like a paste.
In a heavy pot add the chicken stock, thyme, smashed roasted garlic, heavy cream and cayenne. Bring the liquid just to a boil and add the polenta. With a whisk, stir in the polenta vigorously until incorporated. The polenta should absorb the liquid fairly quickly.
While continuing to whisk, add the Monterrey Jack cheese and Parmesan (optional). Since the cheese contains salt, taste the polenta before you add additional salt.
Once the cheese has melted into the polenta, add a pat of butter or drizzle with olive oil on top. Cover and reserve until needed. The butter or olive oil will help keep a skin from forming on top of the polenta while it is resting. You can also accomplish this with a little water if you do not wish to add butter or oil.
The polenta is ready to be served.
Hatch green chiles or a drizzle of a good quality olive oil is a great finish to the polenta. Some people also embellish with ground bay leaf or ground sassafras root. When I was growing up a small pat of butter and salt was about all we ever added.
Saute up some mushrooms with polenta/grits as they compliment each other very well.