Recipe: Creamy Fontina Cheese Grits topped with Sauteed Chicken and Tomatoes

Last night, while browsing through recipes on Pinterest and TasteSpotting, I came across a shrimp and grits recipe and it stuck with me, making me think about my time in the South. I’d never heard of grits until I moved down south to start college in South Carolina in 2007. When I first came across grits, I was in our campus dining hall and passed right by, thinking that the mushy, khaki-colored mixture was some kind of strange, southern oatmeal. During fall break that year, I stayed with my suitemate and her family and we had what I call “grit sticks,” or grits, chilled until semi-solid, then cut into French toast stick-style pieces and sauteed in butter, served with warm maple syrup. Now, that was pretty tasty, so I started to come around to grits, strange as they still seemed. Our dining hall served cheap, out of the box grits that were watery and relatively flavorless, but I started adding a ladle-full to my plate in the mornings and topped it with a generous lump of shredded cheddar cheese, slowly becoming a fan of this southern staple. Later, I had the chance to try the famed shrimp and grits at Soby’s, this fancy little restaurant in downtown Greenville, and I was officially hooked. Not really porridge, and not quite polenta, grits are their own unique food, with a rich, creamy texture that works well in a variety of applications. Tonight, I was craving cheesy grits, and we happened to have a huge chunk of velvety fontina cheese that I knew would melt perfectly into the dish. Topped with a tomato, onion, and chicken mixture, it made for a tasty and filling meal that made my desire to move back down south that much stronger.

Serves: 4
Prep. time: 10-15 minutes
Cooking time: 20-30 minutes
Difficulty: Easy

Ingredients
For the grits

  • 2 cups water
  • 1 cup chicken broth/stock
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1 cup grits (I used Bob’s Red Mill Organic Corn Grits/Polenta and they were excellent; make sure whatever you get is a fairly quick cooking brand but good quality as well—Bob’s only took 5 minutes)
  • 7 oz. fontina cheese, shredded
  • Approx. 1/4 cup milk
  • Garlic powder, to taste
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

*Note: Depending on what kind of grits you use and how much, it may call for slightly different ingredients. No matter what though, make sure that, if the recipe calls for all water, substitute in some chicken broth, because it adds flavor. Also be sure to add in garlic when you bring the liquids to a boil to add even more flavor.

For the chicken and tomato mixture
  • Olive oil, enough to lightly coat the bottom of a pan
  • 1 tbsp. butter
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 2 chicken breasts, sliced into 1 inch thick slices or cut into small cubes
  • 3-4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1, 14.5 oz can petite diced tomatoes
  • 1/4-1/2 cup tomato sauce
  • 2-5 tbsp. red wine (cooking wine will do)
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • Fresh or dried herbs, to taste
Directions
Place a large pan over medium high heat and add the butter and olive oil to it. Add the onions and cook until they begin to soften slightly, then add the chicken and season with salt and pepper. While the chicken is cooking, combine the water, chicken broth, garlic, and salt for the grits in a medium pot and bring to a boil. Once boiling, add the grits and reduce the heat to medium low, stirring occasionally to break up any lumps. To the chicken and onion mixture, add garlic, and about 30 seconds later, add the diced tomatoes, tomato sauce, and red wine. Reduce the heat to low and let cook, making sure the chicken is cooked through but still tender. To the grits, add the milk and cheese and stir thoroughly to combine. Season with salt, pepper, and garlic powder, as desired. Serve the tomato and chicken mixture on top of a generous helping of grits and garnish with fresh or dried herbs, as desired. 

This dish is a big ol’ bowl of comfort. The cheesy grits are creamy and warm—the perfect accompaniment to tender chicken, bright tomatoes, and fresh herbs. Perfect any time of year, this dish is flavorful and so easy to make. It’s even better served with a slice of crusty Italian bread, a glass of red wine, and a fresh salad. (Or, you could just eat straight spoonfuls of the grits, because they are seriously that good).

Oh! On a slightly unrelated note, I finally tried out my microplane herb mill (a.k.a. a fresh herb grinder), using it to garnish tonight’s meal with a mix of fresh basil and oregano.The herbs came out finely chopped like they would be in a jar of dried herbs, and the smell as they were cut was amazing. You could just as easily chop them up by hand, but this gadget was still pretty fun to use.

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