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City Grit Chef Sarah Simmons's Creamy Parmesan Grits

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[Photograph: Christina Holmes]

I grew up with grits. Whether they were instant with extra salt, slow-cooked with chunks of cheddar, or tented with a Kraft Single and a puddle of Tabasco (a la Waffle House), I'd eat them every which way. And I'd still eat them every morning if I didn't have to mail-order a good bag. Even though menus today are replete with Southern-inflected versions of the Bible Belt breakfast staple, it is still surprisingly difficult to find a bag of white ground corn labeled "grits" above the Mason-Dixon line.

It's a good thing Sarah Simmons's recipe for Creamy Parmesan Grits from Food and Wine's new book America's Greatest New Cooks still works with "polenta." She first simmers her grits in salted water (fortified with butter, of course) until tender. Instead of portioning the porridge and adding cheese, however, she builds a quick, creamy cheese sauce. This sauce holds the secret to perfectly creamy and extra cheesy grits, as it allows for more milk, butter, and cheese to be added to the grits than otherwise thought possible. And before you interject that Parmesan should go nowhere near a bowl of grits, give it a try. The umami-rich, salty cheese is a perfect foil to the sweet corn.

Why I picked this recipe: I am a child of the South. I never say no to a hot bowl of grits, especially when they aren't disguised as polenta.

What worked: The parmesan sauce was a revelation. I've always just stirred in grated cheese to hot grits, but making a sauce adds another layer of creaminess to the dish, not to mention helps keep the cheese from breaking!

What didn't: I needed to add another 1/2 cup of water to my simmering grits to prevent them from sticking to the bottom of the pot while simmering. Starting with 4 cups of water will help mitigate the problem.

Suggested tweaks: Simmons suggests serving as a side dish to short ribs, but I ate a big bowl for breakfast. You could certainly change up the cheese used in the sauce or add any number of accents. Simmons has incorporated everything from miso to brown butter to roasted garlic in her grits.

As always with our Cook the Book feature, we have five (5) copies of America's Greatest New Cooks to give away this week.

About the author: Kate Williams is a freelance writer out of Berkeley, CA. She is a contributor to The Oxford American, Berkeleyside NOSH, and blogs at cookingwolves.wordpress.com.

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