Ok. First off. I totally got the inspiration for this from this post [insert link] for Polenta with a Leek and Mushroom Ragu. And we’ll, I made the poor-man’s version of this vegetarian dish using grits, baby leeks, shitakes and balsamic reduction. The balsamic really cuts the rich, saltiness of the grits and cheese and plays well with the earthiness of the mushrooms and leeks. My version also uses chicken stock, but feel free to use veggie stock if you’re so inclined. [Also, I realize that this picture is horrible. I'll replace it with a better one next time I make it-Ed.] The basic ingredients are:
Grits with Wild Mushroom Ragu
- 2 cups grits (I used quick cooking grits to save time)
- 2 cups mushrooms (I used shitakes and some criminis that I had in the fridge)
- 1 peeled, chopped clove garlic (~1 tsp)
- stock (use whatever you fancy. I used chicken stock here)
- cheese (I used English cheddar in the grits, pecorino in the ragu, and parm. reggiano on top of the finished dish)
- baby leeks (scallions, ramps, leeks, shallots…pretty much any onion will work)
- 2 cups balsamic vinegar
- kosher or sea salt
- black pepper
- fresh thyme (dried will work)
- fresh parsley (dried will not work)
- 1/4 of a lemon
- 1/2 cup white wine
- turbinado or cane sugar
- whole or skim milk
- olive oil
This dish is is really easy and straightforward, so I’m not going to outline the entire process in detail. The basics are:
Cook grits according to package direction substituting stock for the required water. Add 1/4 cup of cheddar (or whatever sharp, flavorful cheese you like e.g. gorgonzola) then stir in about a half a cup of milk until creamy. Reduce heat or lid the pot and turn off the heat.
Saute mushrooms and leeks in olive oil (adding salt and pepper to taste) until mushrooms have browned. Add the garlic and a 1/2 cup white wine to deglaze the pan and cook for a few minutes until the alcohol is gone and the liquid starts to reduce. Next, add 1/2 cup stock and reduce to a simmer, stirring when needed.
In a sauce pan add 2 cups balsamic vinegar, 1 pinch salt, 1 pinch fresh black pepper, 2 TBSP sugar and the juice from the lemon wedge and bring to a slow boil, stirring over medium heat. Keep your face away from the fumes because vinegar fumes are harsh. Also avoid tasting the hot balsamic from a spoon until it cools down. Trust me. This sauce must be watched the whole time you’re cooking. The sauce will reduce slowly, then at a specific point it will get syrupy (like hot candy syrup) and start to form rapid big bubbles that grow from the bottom of the pan. Once this happens the reduction is ready (the sauce will coat the back of a spoon and be very “honey like” in consistency. DO NOT TASTE AT THIS POINT. Trust me. The sauce is extremely hot at this point so you will definitely burn your tongue. Cut the heat and stir for minute or so, then pour into a container or gravy boat for later.
Now back to that ragu. Shave some aged pecorino (I prefer the less salty Toscano to the Romano version). I used about 1/8 of a cup, but this is really up to your personal taste. Stir or saute the cheese to incorporate into the ragu then cut the heat. Spoon hot creamy grits into a bowl, add a few TBSP’s of the ragu, then drizzle a little of the balsamic on the top. Finish with some reggiano shavings and fresh parsley and you have yourself a mostly vegetarian meal or starter course.