Deconstructed Roasted Tomato Grits and Shrimp, with Sauteed Baby Mustard Greens and Bacon "Confit"

I cook a lot at home, and I'm very much used to cooking alone - puttering around the kitchen, mumbling and tripping over the pups, wondering where I'll find room in the fridge for the vittles I'm making. But what I really enjoy is cooking with people who enjoy cooking as much as I do. THAT is when I really enjoy myself in the kitchen.

Whenever I travel east for work, I make a point of stopping off in Farmington, NM to visit my friends, Jerry and Peggy Puckett. I used to work with Jerry (he was my boss, actually) back in the day when he was the editor of our little fishing magazine, the Inside Line. Jerry ran the show and I did the general grunt-work and was the official "nag". You ask him and he'll tell you - I'm a pretty efficient nagger.

Sure, I could head straight south to Flagstaff, AZ and hit good ol' Route 66 (I-40) and head east to places like Albuquerque and Amarillo and Oklahoma City, but anyone can do that. Instead, I choose to stay north for a ways and head out across the Navajo Indian Reservation. It's a much more interesting drive (there are mutton and fry bread stands along the way) and there are fewer trucks to contend with (no offense if you are a truck-driver, as Jerry used to be one).

Jerry is the kind of cook who is able to whip something together at the drop of a hat (his kitchen is ALWAYS well-stocked thanks to Peggy) using the ingenuity that comes only from a well-experienced eater. Don't get me wrong, he's an avid recipe reader, but I'm of the persuasion that he's only reading them for inspiration. I've never once seen him glancing at a recipe while he's cooking. Maybe he has photographic memory. Nah - he just looks for inspiration then makes each meal his own.

Cooking with someone like that can be a bit intimidating, especially for someone like me who still considers herself a novice cook. I'm just now getting into kitchen experimentation, but I still have to have the recipe within arm's reach or I'm uncomfortable. Jerry and Peggy had planned for tapas style grazing (my favorite) on Saturday, I was assigned brunch on Sunday morning and then Jerry followed up with Sunday dinner (Carnitas!).

I arrived Saturday afternoon around 1:00PM and was greeted with a cocktail and a piping hot bowl of roasted nuts. Sprayed with a bit of olive oil and lightly dusted with cayenne pepper, a little bit of sugar and fresh rosemary (and a few other secret ingredients) the mixed nuts were salty, sweet and a bit spicy. Perfect for cocktail hour. So we started early. So what?

Next we grazed on all sorts of yummy veggies: blanched asparagus with a lemon vinaigrette, toasted pine nuts and tangy crumbled blue cheese, cauliflower gratin and creamed spinach. We followed that up with little ramekins of spinach lasagna and individual pots of french onion soup.

And then we got serious with the cocktails. I honestly don't know where we put it all. Below is a little collage of our Saturday afternoon and evening grazing.

As we all shuffled off to bed, tummies bulging, I wondered how I was ever going to follow that gastronomical bonanza ... and whether or not we'd even be hungry in the morning.

Amazingly, after some strong coffee and catching up with the morning's news, we decided maybe we could put away some more food, so I got started on Bobby Flay's "Deconstructed Roasted Tomato Grits and Shrimp, with Sauteed Baby Mustard Greens and Bacon 'Confit'" Now that's a mouthful right there.

I have to admit, I've never had shrimp and grits before (seriously) so I really wouldn't know constructed from deconstructed. Perhaps it's because he offers up all the components individually, family-style, so folks can "construct" the dish based on which components they favor best? Sounds good to me!

I deviated slightly from his original recipe in that I didn't necessarily "confit" the bacon - that calls for cooking the bacon in quite a bit of bacon fat. Firstly, we didn't have extra bacon fat lying around and secondly, less fat for the three of us at this point could ONLY be beneficial. Additionally, I forgot to "marinate" the bacon in it's rub overnight. This MAY have had something to do with all the alcohol earlier in the afternoon on the previous day ...

Regardless, the bacon was still incredible but I imagine marinating it overnight really puts it over the top. Next time I make this, I won't forget that step.

What I liked about this dish is that it wasn't fussy - there were a lot of steps (and it's extremely important to have everything prepped and ready to go because you're cooking a lot of things at once) but each component stands solidly on it's own and they each stand out. Unassuming little cherry tomatoes turn into explosions of sunshine by simply tossing them with olive oil, salt and pepper and thyme and roasting them. Rubbing the bacon with ground cinnamon and cloves, salt and pepper and dried thyme turns the pig into bacon candy. Really good shrimp needs nothing more than a quick saute in olive oil and mustard greens are transformed into garlicky goodness that popped with a little splash from sherry vinegar. The grits - well how can anything taste bad after you add aged white cheddar and Pecorino-Romano cheeses? I'm asking you - seriously.

Each part of this dish is integral and yet they all easily stand on their own. Construct yours however you'd like. This is definitely not a dish for a rushed week-day morning, but seriously consider this for your next weekend brunch.

Pass the mimosas!

Deconstructed Roasted Tomato Grits and Shrimp, with Sauteed Baby Mustard Greens and Bacon "Confit"

Recipe by Bobby Flay (from Brunch With Bobby)

Total Time: 10 hours, 10 minutes
Prep Time: 40 minutes
Inactive Prep: 8 hours
Cooking time: 1 hour 30 minutes

YIELD:8 servings

INGREDIENTS

Bacon Confit:

  • 2-pound piece thick-slab bacon, rind removed, cut into lardons
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cloves
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon ground dried thyme
  • 4 ounces bacon fat, cut into pieces
  • Aged sherry vinegar
  • Finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley, for garnish

ROASTED TOMATOES:

  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh thyme leaves
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 cups cherry tomatoes
  • Pinch sugar

CHEESE GRITS:

  • 2 cups milk
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 cups stone-ground yellow grits
  • 1 1/2 cups grated aged white Cheddar
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Pecorino-Romano
  • Hot water to thin grits, if necessary

SAUTEED BABY MUSTARD GREENS:

  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • Pinch red pepper flakes
  • 1 clove garlic, thinly sliced
  • 1 pound baby mustard greens, washed
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

SHRIMP:

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 16 colossal shrimp (15 and under) shelled and deveined, tail on
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

DIRECTIONS

For the bacon confit: Blot the bacon with paper towels and place in a small roasting dish Combine the cinnamon, cloves, pepper and thyme in a small bowl. Rub the bacon with the spice mixture. Cover and refrigerate for at least 8 hours and up to 12 hours. 

Melt the bacon fat in a medium saucepan over medium-low heat. Add the bacon and cook slowly until golden brown and crisp on one side, about 10 minutes. Turn the bacon and increase the heat to medium-high. Cook the bacon until crisp, about 10 more minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon to a bowl, drizzle with a splash of vinegar and garnish with parsley. Reserve the bacon fat for the mustard greens. 

For the roasted tomatoes: Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Mix together the oil, thyme and some salt and pepper. Place the tomatoes in a baking dish and drizzle with the oil mixture. Then sprinkle with the sugar. Bake the tomatoes until they are completely softened and start to wrinkle, 30 to 40 minutes. 

For the cheese grits: Bring 6 cups of water and the milk to a boil in a medium saucepan and season with salt and pepper. Slowly whisk in the grits and bring back to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium and cook, whisking constantly. Cook until mixture is thick and tender, about 30 minutes, adding more water, if needed. Mix in the Cheddar and Pecorino-Romano until thoroughly incorporated. Season with some salt and pepper. Cover and keep warm until ready to serve. 

For the sauteed baby mustard greens: Heat the butter and 2 tablespoons of the reserved bacon fat in a large saute pan over medium heat. Add the red pepper flakes and garlic and cook until the garlic is softened, about 1 minute. Add the mustard greens and season with salt and pepper. Toss just to coat with the fat. Add a splash of water and cook until the greens are just wilted, about 2 minutes. 

For the shrimp: Heat the oil in a large saute pan over high heat until it begins to shimmer. Add 8 to 10 shrimp, sprinkle with salt and pepper. Cook until well-seared and crisp but just cooked through, about 2 minutes per side. Repeat with the remaining shrimp. 

On a serving platter or individual plates, spoon and slightly spread a mound of hot grits (if they have gotten too stiff, thin them a bit by whisking in hot water over low heat). Spoon the tomatoes on top, then add the greens and bacon. Top with the shrimp.