Ciao, Yâ€TMall
By Nikki DeAngelis

As an Illinois native who grew up in an Italian American family, you shouldnâ€TMt be too surprised to hear that my first exposure to grits was in Nashville. Almost every restaurant in Music City has their take on what I initially considered “polenta with shrimp.” My friends at the table proceeded to ask me what polenta was. I was shocked to hear that they had never enjoyed this classic Italian dish, but I think they were more surprised that Iâ€TMve never had grits.

In my family, polenta for dinner means weâ€TMre having cornmeal topped with tomato sauce. In the olden days of Italy, polenta was considered a poor manâ€TMs meal since it traditionally consisted of some type of ground legume or grain cooked with water for a very long time. The English translation of polenta actually resembles the term “slowpoke” because of the lengthy cooking time.

So did I grow up eating grits with tomato sauce, or are they different from polenta? Both grits and polenta are essentially cornmeal, but the type of corn and texture of the cornmeal differ. Traditional polenta is ground from flint corn. Eight-row flint corn, or otto file, grown in Italy makes for truly authentic polenta. Flint corn has a hard starch center, which results in the polenta having a more granular texture when cooked. Grits are milled from a higher starch dent corn that has been hulled. Hulled corn means the hard outer covering of the corn kernel has been removed. The result is a smooth, creamy, and paler cooked product.

Since most varieties of grits are hulled, they lose the extra fiber, vitamins, and minerals found in the outer covering AKA the hull. Both stone ground grits and polenta reap the extra nutritional benefits since they include the hull. Try a serving of stone ground polenta as a whole grain alternative to traditional pasta noodles. Polenta can be found in most grocery stores next to the pasta. Ease into my polenta fan club by trying the Polenta and Shrimp recipe below!

Servings: 4

For the Grits: 1 cup polenta 4 cups low sodium chicken stock + 1 cup water 1/4 - 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper 1 ½ cups shredded Italian cheeses (such as asiago, fontina, parmesan, etc.) 3-4 Tbsp. half and half

For the Shrimp:
1 lb. jumbo shrimp, peeled and cleaned
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 garlic clove, minced
1 Tbsp. lemon juice
1/4 cup sweet sun dried red peppers, sliced 2 Tbsp. capers, drained
1/2 cup chopped Italian parsley
Olive oil
Salt and pepper

  1. In a medium saucepan, bring 4 cups of chicken stock, 1 cup water, and crushed red pepper to a boil. Add the polenta and whisk well to avoid clumping. Reduce the heat to the lowest setting and cook until the water is absorbed, 5-10 minutes. Turn off the heat and stir in the cheeses and half and half. Taste for salt. Cover until ready to serve.
  2. Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil to a medium fry pan. Add the garlic and shrimp, then sauté until pink— about 3-4 minutes, flipping once. Immediately add the lemon juice, red peppers, capers and parsley. Toss and remove from the heat. (You probably won't need to salt the shrimp, because of the salty ingredients, but check anyway.)
  3. Divide the polenta onto plates and top with the shrimp mixture. Drizzle with olive oil and serve.

Nutrition Info
Calories: 500, Fat:17 g, Sodium 850 mg, Carbohydrates 35 g, Fiber 2g, Protein 40g

Adapted from

Nikki DeAngelis is a Nashville transplant originally from Plainfield, IL. She graduated from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign with a Bachelorâ€TMs Degree in Dietetics and is currently a Dietetic Intern at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. As a future Registered Dietitian, Nikki hopes to merge her passion for nutrition with her interest in business.