In the summer, spending stifling days in the South may seem like cruel and unusual punishment, but, for me, it had many great rewards. One of the greatest rewards occurred whenever my grandma decided to make homemade pizzas for lunch. It was my special treat for killing banana spiders, devouring honeysuckles, and kicking over crawfish holes. It was a rough job, but someone had to do it.
When my tummy started rumbling, I ran inside to find Grandma meticulously rolling out her bread dough and placing it on a piping hot pizza stone, topping the dough with spicy hamburger, creamy white cheese and fiery red tomato sauce. Grandma popped the pizza in the oven, and when it came out, the only sound was a tiny sigh of delight. The crust was crisp and sweet which complimented the cheesy, spicy toppings. I remember looking out the window at the summer’s day thinking of all the unlucky crawfish out there and kicking my little legs in pure contentment with a slice of my grandma’s pizza in hand. It was a good day.
1 cup of red sauce, homemade or your brand of choice
¼ pound of country ham, thinly sliced
1 pound of mozzarella
1 tablespoon of freshly chopped parsley, leaves only, for garnish
Salt, pepper and red pepper flakes to taste
Preheat oven to 500 degrees. Place pizza stone in oven for 40 minutes.
On a piece of foil, sprinkle lightly with flour and lay dough on top. Roll the dough out with a rolling pin to desired thickness. Spoon 2 tablespoons of sauce on the dough. Hand tear pieces of ham, a few pieces of cheese and seasonings onto the pizza. Place the pizza in the oven for 10-15 minutes. Once the pizza is brown and crispy, take the pizza out of the oven, scatter with fresh parsley. Repeat with the remaining 7 pieces of pizza dough. Enjoy!
Located in Five Points South, Highlands Bar & Grill inhabits a tile-topped Spanish Revival building of stucco accentuated with stone around the door and windows. Built by the Munger family during the late 1920’s, the structure served as a tearoom during the late 1930’s and early 1940’s. Chef Frank Stitt chose this building to house his restaurant, which opened in 1982. The décor is a mixture of Stitt himself, a combination of Southern and French accents. The butter-colored walls, glittering mirrors, and vintage French posters add warmth to the relaxed atmosphere.
My intentions were pure. I traipsed into the bar, plopped myself on a stool and glazed over the menu. The second my eyes scanned the stone-ground grits soufflé the decision was made. In a matter of moments, the smell of butter, ham, and chanterelle mushrooms filled the air as I laid my eyes on the cloud-like grits soufflé. There, like a lone reed, stood a pale disk of grits in a pool of creamy white sauce accompanied with drowning bits of ham and chanterelles. Fresh thyme was strewn across the top of the dish and the warmth of the sauce created a lovely, almost grassy perfume.
My fork teetered into the soufflé and I soaked the morsel in the buttery sauce. After taking my first bite, I was overwhelmed by the thought that this was the best morsel that has ever crossed my lips EVER. I tried my hardest to savor the complex flavors of the dish, but, alas, my greed and appetite won me over and the dish disappeared in shear minutes. I sat back at the bar and relaxed for just one moment, one bittersweet moment. I was in pure heaven from the dish but deeply saddened that I had eaten it all. So I made one wise and gluttonous decision, I looked at the waiter and said,”un autre, s’il vous plait.” Yes, I ate two.
This is my version of the complex and knee-bending dish with an easy-to-make-at-home twist.
Recipe: Inspired by Frank Stitt’s Highlands Bar & Grill and Adapted from John Currence’s Grits Soufflé featured in the November 2011 Issue of Bon Appétit
For the Grits:
1 cup of coarse stone-ground grits
1 cup of chopped bacon, cooked and drained, reserving 2 tablespoons of bacon fat
½ cup of heavy whipping cream
2 cups of grated cheddar
2 tablespoons of chives (optional)
Salt, pepper and cayenne pepper to taste
Butter a 2-quart baking dish or 10 ramekins
Bring 4 cups of water to a simmer in a large saucepan. Slowly, whisk in grits. Reduce the heat to low. Continuously stir the grits for about 1 hour, while adding water to the grits as they thicken (about ¼ cup at a time.) Remove pan from heat and let cool slightly.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Whisk the eggs and cream together. Whisk the egg mixture into the grits in 3 additions. Add cheddar cheese (reserving ¼ cup for the top of the grits), chives (if using), and bacon. Season to taste with salt, pepper and cayenne pepper.
Transfer grits to baking dish or individual ramekins and sprinkle on remaining cheese. Cook the grits in a 350-degree oven for 50-60 minutes in the baking dish and 40 minutes for the ramekins. You want to make sure that the center of the soufflé is set and the top gets nice and brown. Let cool for 5-10 minutes before serving.
6 tablespoons of butter
2 tablespoons of reserved bacon fat
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and slightly crushed
3 sprigs of thyme leaves, plus more for garnish
1 pinch of red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon of black pepper
¼ pound of country ham, hand torn
Juice of ¼ lemon
Melt butter in a small saucepan on low heat. Add bacon fat, garlic cloves, thyme leaves, red pepper flakes and black pepper and country ham. Let the ingredients simmer for 5-10 minutes, the butter will have turned slightly brown. Take off the heat and add lemon juice. Let cool slightly.
If you cooked the grits in a baking dish, just serve the confit on the side and drizzle a small amount onto of the grits. If using a ramekin, invert the grits onto a small dish and spoon the confit around the grits soufflé and garnish with more thyme leaves. Enjoy!