Grits or polenta, by any name it’s good

Italian polenta and southern grits aren’t exactly the same thing.

The Italian dish is made from yellow corn while grits are made from white corn, but both kind of serve the same role in their respective cultures. In homes where meat was scarce and expensive, it could be a main component of a warm, filling and economical meal.

Growing up in Ohio and being a finicky eater, I wasn’t familiar with grits until my family’s first trip to Florida, and I wasn’t happy about that pale, lumpy pool coming dangerously close to the eggs and bacon on my plate at some southern diner we stopped at on the drive there.

And not being Italian, I had zero experience with polenta growing up, outside of my mother occasionally making fried mush for breakfast (I had something else).

Becoming more adventurous as I got older and marrying into an Italian family, I’ve become a fan of both.

We fix polenta at home occasionally, but my wife usually makes it when we do. This year for her birthday, she said she wanted sausage and polenta for dinner, which meant I had to expand my cooking repertoire.

Instead of making sausage links with polenta, I did a little exploring online and found a recipe at a website called The Yellow Table for a creamy parmesan polenta with sausage ragu.

I tweaked the recipe some. I used DiRusso turkey sausage instead of pork sausage to cut the fat, but I also doubled the amount of meat in the sauce to make it thicker and chunkier (and negating any calorie savings).

My first attempt at polenta went pretty well. Be careful that the polenta doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pan and burn. And if it does, be careful not to stir up that blackened polenta and have the burned flavor permeate the dish.

I lost a little polenta to the bottom of the pan, but it didn’t affect the flavor of the dish.

And on a table with stuffed shells, meatballs, antipasto salad and fresh bread (the last three all from Jimmy’s in Liberty), the polenta was the hit of the meal.

A week later, we were talking about shrimp and grits, so I decided to go in search of a recipe and found a quick, simple one on the Food Network website.

As anyone who’s tried to replicate Rachael Ray’s TV recipes knows, 30-minute-meals seldom are when making them at home, but this recipe really does come together in 30 minutes, maybe a little less.

Now, I know one of the witnesses in “My Cousin Vinny” testified that no self-respecting southerner would use quick grits. But that’s what the recipe called for, and they tasted great. If you want to be a purist, it would be easy to use slow-cookin’ grits and adjust the time accordingly.

I followed the recipe as printed, except I used Meyer lemons instead of traditional lemons because they were in season and I already had some in the house. Everyone liked the recipe, but I think it would have been better with the tart, acidic bite of regular lemons instead of using the sweeter Meyer variety.