Although this recipe calls for dried morels, it is a fabulous showcase for fresh morels if available. Buy 1 pound and replace the soaking liquid in the recipe with chicken or beef stock. The grits must be served as soon as they are done, so prepare the morel ragout first, then reheat it when the grits are ready.
2 cups dried morels (2 ounces)
2 1/2 cups boiling water
3 slices of bacon
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1 large leek, white and tender green parts only, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced crosswise
1 garlic clove, minced
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
3 scallions, finely chopped
Salt and freshly ground pepper
6 1/2 cups water
1 1/2 cups stone-ground, whole-grain grits (see Note)
MAKE THE RAGOUT: In a large heatproof bowl, soak the morels in the boiling water until softened, about 25 minutes. Rub them to remove any grit, then lift them out. Let the soaking liquid stand for 5 minutes so the grit falls to the bottom. Pour off the liquid, leaving any grit behind, and reserve.
In a medium saucepan, cook the bacon over moderate heat until crisp, 8 to 10 minutes. Drain on paper towels, then coarsely crumble the bacon and set aside. Drain off all but 1 teaspoon of the bacon fat and add 1 tablespoon of the butter to the saucepan. Add the leek and cook over low heat, stirring often, until softened but not browned, about 8 minutes. Add the morels and garlic and cook over moderate heat, stirring, until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Add the reserved morel soaking liquid, cover and simmer over low heat until the morels are tender, about 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, in a small bowl, blend the flour with the remaining 1 tablespoon of butter to make a paste. Uncover the saucepan and add the paste, stirring, until blended. Simmer the ragout over low heat, stirring occasionally, until the sauce has thickened, about 4 minutes. Stir in 2/3 of the chopped scallions. Season with salt and pepper. Remove the pan from the heat.
MAKE THE GRITS: In a large saucepan, bring the water to a boil. Add the grits and 1/2 teaspoon of salt, stir well and bring to a simmer. Whisk the grits and cover. Simmer over low heat, whisking often and vigorously, until the grits are thick, creamy and tender but still slightly chewy, about 1 hour. Stir in the milk and butter and season with salt and pepper. Add the cheese and stir until melted. Serve the grits in individual bowls, spoon the ragout on top and garnish with the remaining chopped scallion and the crumbled bacon.
Make Ahead: The recipe can be prepared through Step 3 and refrigerated for up to 2 days. Reheat the morel ragout and season with salt and pepper before serving.
Wine Recommendation: This earthy ragout with creamy grits requires a red with the intensity tocontrast the double-barreled richness. Go for a Barbaresco from Italy, such asthe 1995 Prunotto or the 1993 Vietti.
Notes: Freshly stone-ground grits can be ordered through Hoppin' John's(800-828-4412).
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