Make-Ahead Sausage and Cheese Grits Casserole — Down-Home Comfort
While working on my first cookbook, I got into a squabble with my editor over a recipe title. I had created a grits casserole recipe called “Funeral Grits,” and my Harvard-educated, California-residing editor was appalled. She said no one would want to cook something associated with a funeral. I countered her argument, noting that a bowl of grits after a funeral would evoke comfort, not sorrow.
Who wouldn’t want a bowl of creamy, comforting grits when feeling sad? Comfort food means safety, satisfaction and simplicity. Grits are easy to prepare, can be a main meal or a side dish, will hold for hours in a low oven and reheat wonderfully as leftovers, even in the microwave. I'm suggesting this Grits Casserole for Mother's Day breakfast or brunch. It's easy enough that Dad can help the kids make it the day before or that morning. And, worst-case scenario, if the lady of the house has to cook her own Mother's Day Grits Casserole, it can be made ahead by her too!
There are three primary kinds of grits: commercially ground instant or quick grits, hominy grits and stone-ground grits. With quick grits, the germs and hulls are removed to prevent rancidity and improve the product’s shelf life. The grits are finely ground and produce a smooth, bland porridge. Instant grits also have the germs and hulls removed but are cooked, after which the paste is spread into large sheets, then dried and reground. It’s virtually a pot of starch with no flavor. These are desperation grits.
Hominy is made from corn kernels soaked in an alkaline solution of water and lye to remove the kernels’ outer hull. When hominy is dried and coarsely ground, the result is hominy grits. Stone-ground grits, on the other hand, are made from dried whole corn kernels ground between two stones. As they are whole grains, they should be simmered for 45 minutes to an hour to coax out their creamy texture. Bob’s Red Mill corn grits are widely available in grocery stores, and while the grind is not quite as large as artisanally stone-ground grits, they are not degerminated and maintain a good corn flavor. Stone-ground grits would be great for this down-home sausage and grits comfort casserole.
I'd like to take a moment to tell my sweet mama, Jenny B. Willis, happy Mother's Day. She taught me to cook and to love the joys and pleasures of the kitchen — and she eats cheese grits every morning for breakfast. I am eternally grateful and love her more than I could ever express.
Georgia-born, French-trained Chef Virginia Willis has cooked lapin Normandie with Julia Child in France, prepared lunch for President Clinton and harvested capers in the shadow of a smoldering volcano in Sicily, but it all started in her grandmother’s country kitchen. A Southern food authority, she is the author of Bon Appétit, Y’all and Basic to Brilliant, Y'all , among others. Follow her continuing exploits at VirginiaWillis.com.