I am all set for Mardi Gras, which falls this year on Tuesday, March 8th. For the past few weeks I’ve been testing dishes for a new cookbook, Sunday Brunch. One of my favorite recipes from the collection has turned out to be shrimp and grits. From the first bite, I knew that these extra creamy grits, seasoned with two cheeses and topped with a spicy tomato, shrimp, and andouille sausage mélange, were redolent of New Orleans.
An all-in one casserole, these grits would be perfect to serve for a weekend brunch celebration. Add a mixed greens salad tossed in a red wine vinaigrette, either warm crusty baguettes or cornbread, and, of course, a little bubbly for toasting. For a light finish combine orange segments, fresh pineapple slices, and blueberries garnished with mint. If you want to be truly authentic with your caffeine offering, check at the super market for French Market Coffee and Chicory (www.frenchmarketcoffee.com). This terrific dark brew has a hint of chicory just like the cups of java in the French Quarter.
Mardi Gras colors are purple, yellow, and green, if you’re searching for inspiration for the table. And, for music, consider playing some Wynton Marsalis, the Neville Brothers, or classic Louis Armstrong. “Laissez les bon temps rouler.”
Spicy Shrimp and Grits
1 cup old fashioned (not instant or quick) grits
3/ 4 teaspoon salt, plus more if needed
3/4 cup grated sharp white cheddar cheese, divided
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese, preferably Parmigiano Reggiano
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon olive oil
6 ounces andouille sausage, cut into 1/2-inch dice
1/3 cup chopped green onion (including 2 inches of green stems)
2 teaspoons minced garlic
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper, plus more if needed
One 14-ounce can diced tomatoes, drained well
1 pound medium shrimp (30 count), peeled and deveined with tails left on
Freshly ground black pepper
1 1/2 tablespoons chopped flat leaf parsley
Butter a shallow, 2-quart oven-to-table baking dish.
Bring 4 cups of water to a boil in a large, heavy saucepan (with a lid) set over medium high heat. Pour the grits in slowly. Then add the salt and whisk well.
When mixture comes to a simmer, reduce the heat to low and cover pan. Cook the grits at a gentle simmer, stirring every 3 to 4 minutes, so that they do not stick to the bottom of the pan. Cook until the grits have thickened, about 15 minutes or according to package directions.
Remove the grits from the heat and stir in 1/2 cup of the cheddar and all of the Parmesan cheese. Season with black pepper, cayenne pepper, and more salt if needed. Spread the grits in an even layer in the prepared pan and sprinkle the remaining 1/4 cup cheddar over the top. (Grits can be prepared 1 day ahead; cool, cover, and refrigerate. Bring to room temperature before baking.)
To bake the grits, arrange a rack at center position and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
Bake grits until they are hot and the cheese has melted on top, about 25 minutes. If you would like to brown the cheese on top, arrange an oven rack 4 to 5 inches from the broiler and turn on broiler. Broil until the cheese starts to brown lightly, 2 to 3 minutes.
While the grits are in the oven, prepare the shrimp. Heat the oil in a large, heavy skillet set over medium heat. When hot, add sausage and cook, stirring, until lightly browned, about 3 minutes. Add the green onions and garlic and stir 1 minute. Add the tomatoes and cayenne pepper and stir 2 minutes more. Finally, add the shrimp and cook, stirring, until they turn pink and curl, about 4 minutes. Season the mixture with salt and black pepper. (For a spicier taste, add additional cayenne.)
To serve, spoon the shrimp mixture down the center on top of the grits. Sprinkle chopped parsley over the shrimp.