Southerners got things right with grits. Think soft cornmeal simmered to comforting perfection for a warming breakfast. Come lunch and dinner, it's shaped into patties and fried.
Corn is a key Southern crop, eaten fresh, dried and stored for the winter. We grow plenty of fresh sweet corn and field corn here, too. Our freshly dried cornmeal is equally delicious and northern grits are just now catching on, though we use the fancier Italian name for it: polenta. Truth is, no matter what you call them, grits and polenta are pretty much the same.
I could eat polenta at least three times a day: in the morning with a little maple syrup, at noon topped with sautéed vegetables, and at night topped with meaty sauce and/or cheese. Even with no more than a drizzle of melted butter, polenta/grits is deeply satisfying and requires little more than a pot and a spoon to prepare.
Topping a bowl of polenta with a fried egg makes a terrific meal, especially for breakfast or brunch. The runny egg yolk creates a velvety golden sauce that melts into the creamy polenta. Cooking the egg sunny side up over high heat crisps the whites with pretty brown edges that shatter at first bite. You can add sautéed greens, such as kale or collards, and a little garlic before topping it with grated sharp cheese to make this a dinner-worthy meal in a bowl.
I prefer using the coarsely ground cornmeal, either called polenta or corn grits. You can also use hominy grits, but they have a slightly different flavor because they are treated with lye before being ground.
If you're looking for stone-ground grits or polenta from local companies, find them from Whole Grain Milling Co. in Welcome, Minn. Unless you're really in a hurry, avoid "instant" polenta or the prepared plastic tubes, which may be quick but taste somewhat pasty.
You must be patient to make the perfect pot of polenta. It doesn't take much skill, just a lot of patience. So, plan to make plenty at night for dinner. For the next morning, you've got the makings of a luscious sunny meal.
Beth Dooley is the author of "In Winter's Kitchen." Find her at bethdooleyskitchen.com.