I think of daily utility cooking — making food because I need to eat — as practice. Not that I’m consciously testing a recipe idea, nor am I trying to make my food good enough to serve to other people. I’m cooking to keep limber, to maintain my familiarity with food, my kitchen, my hands. Familiarity leads to facility, so once I’m comfortable with a technique or ingredient, I can see more of its possibilities and that makes me want to experiment.
Last week at the greenmarket, I bought some eggs, cheese, and arugula. Since then, I’ve been making variations on the same dish using my fresh produce and some grits from the pantry. I like seeing how each subtle change stretches the limits of the ingredients and my own limits as a cook. And more importantly, I like a good breakfast. After five or so mornings of experimentation (involving different cheeses, greens, herbs, and grits-cooking methods), I’ve worked out what I like best and the easiest way to make it. This grits and greens breakfast has evolved into something of a whole; a dish, though still flexible, with a point of view. The gritcakes have crisp edges and a creamy interior, and their heat melts the cheese and wilts the greens, the layers blending with each swipe of a fork. It’s the kind of breakfast that gives me energy for the rest of the day but doesn’t make me need a nap. It’s so easy and good that it encourages me to wake up the next morning and make it again, maybe with a few changes.
Gritcakes and Greens
- Grits, prepared, chilled, and sliced 1/2-inch thick, 2 or 3 slices per person. (I used 1/2c quick grits, cooked according to package directions. Once cooled a bit, but still fluid, I poured them into an ungreased rectangular container and refrigerated them overnight. As the grits cool, they pull away from the sides of the container, making it easy to turn the resulting brick out onto a cutting board with a light tap. This makes 8 slices.)
- Two handfuls of greens, washed, torn, and in a bowl. (I used arugula, but any spicy salad green with a bit of body would work.)
- About 1 oz cheese, thinly sliced, laid on top of the greens. (I like a nice sharp cheddar. How to determine an ounce of cheese? Imagine [but do not use] a pre-wrapped Kraft single. That’s an ounce.)
- 1 egg, optional. (There’s a complex logarithm at work here. If I’m cooking 3 gritcakes, I might not want an egg. If I’m cooking 2 gritcakes, I might want an egg. If I’m particularly hungry, I’ll cook 3 gritcakes and an egg. If I think of it before, I’ll hard-boil an egg to slice and add to the mix. If not, I fry the egg once the gritcakes are out of the pan. If I want to coat the greens and gritcakes with yolk, I’ll cook the egg over-easy, or if I’m feeling squeamish, I’ll break the yolk and flip the egg. If I wanted to go on, I could.)
- Salt and pepper, as always, to taste
Heat a small non-stick pan on high, preferably near an open window, but not if you have a bird. Add the grits slices, and cook on high until crisp and lightly brown, 4 minutes each side. Slide the hot gritcakes into the bowl of greens and cheese. Frying an egg? Put the pan back on the burner, over medium heat, crack the egg into the pan and cook to your liking. Or have a hard-boiled egg sliced and ready to go. Slide the egg onto the gritcakes and season with salt and pepper.
That’s breakfast. Also works for lunch.