roasted cauliflower-vidalia onion ragu over blue corn grits and
sea island peas cooked in bay laurel over carolina gold rice
Bins, boxes, bubble wrap,
newsprint, packing tape, Sharpies.
Bit by bit, over the past weeks, moving mode has taken over, as I prepare to leave our home of sixteen years. While my mind churns, What will come with us? What will we sell? What will we give away? shelves and drawers begin to empty. Closets shed their contents. Sturdy cardboard boxes bound in wide tape line up along the walls. Bit by bit, the life force of this house ebbs away.
It’s a process, and through most of it, I’ve felt detached. It’s the best way to plow through the stuff you’ve been living with forever, all snippets of a bigger story. My friend Vicki calls it the house diary, and reviewing it can bring moments of pleasure.
One afternoon clearing out the secretary I found the menu from a little walk-up eatery in Mendocino that served the freshest tasting vegetable burrito I’d ever had. In a flash, I’m on that breezy rise overlooking the Pacific, limitless blue. Another day, a cache of my daughter’s elementary school art work surfaced, like her sweet Thanksgiving drawing of our green planet with her message “I am thankful for the world.”
Sometimes it’s caught me off guard, tapped into feelings deep within, a gush of grief, a pang of regret. Wrapping the little urn that contains photos and ashes of our cats, beloved and long deceased. Or coming across a random catering picture of me and Bill from 1993. We were so young. And I looked so pretty. Why did I not believe that about myself then?
Sorting through the house diary also entails closing out the kitchen pantry. My mission has been to use up those ingredients in the freezer or larder. Of late, I’ve been cooking with an assortment of heirloom grains and legumes I ordered from Anson Mills of Charleston South Carolina.
Do you know about this place, its mission and its products? Since the late ’90’s, Glenn Roberts has labored to repatriate the Southern pantry with heirloom grains once prominent and –due to corporate farming practices–passed over.
Carolina Gold rice, a specialty of the region revered for its plump texture and nutlike taste, had all but vanished. So had different strains of dent corn, which made the best tasting cornmeal and grits. On the wane, too, was the drought-resistant, protein-rich small red peas grown by the Gullah people of the Sea Islands dotting the Carolina coast. Reviving these southern foodways for us to enjoy now, and preserving them for future generations has been monumental work.
Treat yourself (they are pricey) to these heirlooms. The rice, which I cooked in a sofrito of onion, garlic, and sweet red bell pepper and vegetable broth was addictive. Each deep-flavored grain-separate- had satisfying mouth-feel. True gold. The Sea Island red peas, cooked simply as you would other dried beans in onion, garlic and bay leaf, had a delicate savory-sweet pop. Together, they rivaled any bowl of red beans and rice I’d ever dipped my spoon into.
As for the blue corn grits, a native American strain, I took care to follow the Anson Mills directions. The grits really benefit from a long soak and cook. Coarsely ground, my batch yielded a rich pebbled yet creamy texture. And what a color! When I topped it with the caramelized cauliflower-vidalia onion mixture—a tower of candy-sweet tastes—the result was so delicious, Bill and I could have been at Husk. Almost.
BLUE CORN GRITS WITH ROASTED CAULIFLOWER-VIDALIA ONION RAGU
ROASTED CAULIFLOWER-VIDALIA ONION RAGU
1 head cauliflower, washed, chopped or broken into florets
2 Vidalia sweet onions, peeled and cut lengthwise into eighths
several sprigs of fresh thyme
kosher or sea salt
coarse ground black pepper
Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
Place cut pieces of cauliflower and onions in to a large bowl. Sprinkle with salt and black pepper. Liberally coat with olive oil and spread out onto a baking sheet.
Place into the oven and roast for 15-20 minutes, until pieces are browned and caramelized.
BLUE CORN GRITS (recipe adapted from Anson Mills)
1 cup Anson Mills Blue Corn Grits (or coarse grain white or yellow)
2 1/2 cups filtered water
2 cups vegetable broth
Fine sea salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Place the grits in a 3 quart heavy-bottomed saucepan and add the water. Stir well and let the grits settle for a few minutes. The chaff and hulls will rise to the surface—skim and discard. Cover and let the grits soak at least an hour–or overnight at room temperature.
Set the saucepan over medium heat and bring the mixture to a simmer, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon for 5 to 8 minutes. Reduce the heat to the lowest possible setting and cover the pan. Meanwhile, warm 2 cups of broth in a small saucepan. Every 10 minutes or so, uncover the grits and stir them; each time you find them thick enough to hold the spoon upright, stir in a small amount of the hot water, adding about 1½ cups water or more in 4 or 5 additions. Cook until the grits are creamy and tender throughout, but not mushy, and hold their shape on a spoon, about 50 minutes if the grits were soaked or about 90 minutes if they weren’t. Add 1 teaspoon of salt halfway through the cooking time. To finish, season to taste with salt and pepper.
Ladle grits into bowls. Mound each with roasted cauliflower-onion mixture. Sprinkle shredded pecorino and chives over the tops. Serves 4.