Baked Grits with Country Ham, Wild Mushrooms, Fresh Thyme, and Parmesan

Ancho (Ahn-cho) Chile (Capsicum Annum) means Wide Chile Pepper. This chile ranges from 3 – 4 on a heat scale of 1 to 10. An Ancho is the dried form of a Poblano Pepper and often is mislabeled as a Pasilla or Mulato Pepper. Anchos have sweet fruity flavor with hints of cherry, prune, and fig. Anchos, combined with the Pasilla and Guajillo, form the Holy Trinity of chiles used to prepare the traditional mole sauces. Scoville heat units are 1,000 to 3,000.

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5 cups water
1 tsp. kosher salt
1-1/4 cups stone-ground yellow grits
1/4 cup (1 oz.) grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
1/4 tsp. white pepper
1 large egg
cooking spray


1/2 cup finely chopped shallots
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup fat-free, less-sodium chicken broth, divided
1/4 cup sherry vinegar
1 bay leaf
1 dried ancho chile pepper, crushed
1 tsp. cornstarch
2 Tbsp. butter
1 Tbsp. whipping cream
2 Tbsp. grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
1 tsp. fresh lemon juice
1/4 tsp. black pepper

Remaining ingredients:

1 oz. country ham, cut into julienne strips
2-1/2 cups (1/2″) sliced shiitake mushroom caps
1 Tbsp. minced shallots
1 tsp. water
3 thyme sprigs
additional thyme sprigs (optional)


Preheat oven to 325F.

To prepare grits:

Bring the water and salt to a boil in a large saucepan, and gradually stir in the grits. Reduce the heat and simmer for 30 minutes or until thick, stirring constantly. Remove the grits from the heat and stir in 1/4 cup of cheese and the white pepper. Stir in the egg.

Spoon a 1/2 cup of the grits mixture into each of 8 (4 oz.) ramekins or custard cups coated with cooking spray. Place the ramekins in a 13″x 9″ baking pan and add hot water to the pan, until it reaches a depth of about 1″. Bake at 325F for 20 minutes. Remove the ramekins from the pan and cool completely on a wire rack.

To prepare sauce:

Bring the shallots, wine, 1/4 cup broth, vinegar, bay leaf and chile to a boil in a small saucepan over medium heat. Cook until the mixture reduces to 1 tablespoon of liquid (about 6 minutes). Strain the mixture through a sieve over a bowl and discard the solids. Return the liquid to the pan.

Combine 1/4 cup of broth and cornstarch. Add the cornstarch mixture to the pan and bring to a boil. Cook 1 minute, stirring constantly. Reduce the heat to low and add the butter and cream. Stir with a whisk until it is well blended. Stir in 2 Tbsp. of cheese, the juice and black pepper.

Cook the ham in a large nonstick skillet coated with cooking spray over medium heat for about 1 minute. Add the mushrooms, 1 Tbsp. of shallots, 1 tsp. water and 3 thyme sprigs. Sauté for 3 minutes or just until the mushrooms are tender.

Loosen the edges of the grits with a knife or rubber spatula. Place a plate, upside down, on top of each ramekin and invert onto the plates. Spoon 1 Tbsp. of sauce onto each plate and sprinkle the ham mixture evenly among the plates. Garnish with thyme sprigs, if desired.

Yield: 8 servings

Recipe from Cooking Light Magazine, October 2002.