If you haven't already noticed, Southern cooking is more than just a rising trend. And not just in the South, but all over the country. New cookbooks are hitting shelves daily, pimento cheese was declared a hot food trend of 2011 (say what?!), and Southern chefs are finally getting the national recognition they deserve.
In my spare time, I love checking out what Atlanta chefs are doing with local ingredients, whether it is checking out their restaurants on weekends or just reading their menus online. Gone are the trashy Southern stereotypes of yesteryear. Good, wholesome cooking is in and here to stay. Edna Lewis would be so proud!
One of the restaurant trends I'm loving right now is the veggie-centric, meat-as-garnish menus. They've inspired me to get creative in my own kitchen, using classic Southern ingredients as a mere jumping off point for exploring. Since local Georgia produce is sensational right now, it's not too hard to incorporate as many summer flavors into my diet as possible. That means tons of corn and peaches at my house right now! Darn.
This vegetarian recipe is a great way to incorporate Southern flavors into your cooking, while staying true to the seasons and your health. Make sure to use the best stone-ground grits you can get your hands on — those instant grocery store grits just won't do. These grits would also be delicious with some cooked greens stirred in, or maybe even a fried egg on top. It's really just a rough guideline for exploring one of the South's most cherished ingredients.
1 pint cherry tomatoes, sliced in half
1 cup stone-ground grits, rinsed
1 1/2 cups milk
1 1/2 cups water
1 cup corn kernels
1/4 cup goat cheese, plus more for garnish
Good-quality olive oil, for garnish
Preheat oven to 400 °. Toss tomatoes with olive oil and kosher salt and arrange on a sheet pan cut side up. Cook for approximately one hour until they are soft, shriveling, and turning golden brown.
Meanwhile, for the grits, bring milk and water to a gentle boil in a heavy sauce pan. Add grits and reduce heat to medium low. Whisk occasionally at first, then whisk more frequently as the grits begin to thicken, watching carefully to make sure the bottom of the pot does not scald. Cook until the grits are thick and creamy, about 45 minutes to an hour. Add more liquid if you feel they are too thick, and continue cooking until desired consistency is reached. Season generously with salt and a dallop of butter, adjusting to personal taste. (Grits can usually handle way more salt than you might think they can.)
Stir the corn and goat cheese into the grits. Adjust seasoning, to taste. Top the grits with roasted tomatoes. Drizzle with olive oil and garnish with additional goat cheese crumbles.
(Images: Nealey Dozier)