Have you ever wondered why people sometimes snicker if you order grits, but the conversation takes a decidedly epicurean turn if you order polenta? Grits are perceived as Southern country-folk fare, while polenta implies an international flair, but they're almost identical dishes. Dress them up with a little cheese, and few would know the difference, including most Southerners. The essential difference is white versus yellow corn.
Grits are made from stone-ground white corn, a process that helps to retain the flavor, fiber and nutrients of the corn. Non-instant grits take about 20-25 minutes to cook [source: Shrum]. Add milk or cream and stir in Monterrey Jack cheese and fresh minced jalapeño for a Tex-Mex side dish. Add cheese and leftovers to cooked grits and bake to make a casserole. Get a little fancier in your technique to create a soufflé with down-home Southern flare.
Cook ground yellow corn and Parmesan cheese, and you have polenta, a wonderfully creamy side dish or a palatable palette upon which to place grilled shrimp, fish, chicken or vegetables. You can even buy it ready to cook.
And just in case you're worried, trust us -- you're not going to sprout a Southern accent the next time you help yourself to the creamy warmth of grits smothered in butter and cheese, so go ahead and dig in to a bowl of genuine stone-ground grits.