Grits, shrimp and baby artichoke casserole can’t replace Best Derby Ever

Grits casseroleWe very much like this casserole, which is a fancied-up, fresher-tasting version of the boring grits and cheese concoctions usually found on Derby buffets. But we don’t like it nearly as much as last year’s Derby. Faithful, years-long readers of Gourmandistan (and oh, how we love you so very, very much) may recall our previous posts, where we tended to take “The Greatest Two Minutes in Sports” with our tongues planted firmly in our cheeks. Last year, however, as Steve’s editorship of Eater Louisville began to wind down, we scored one of Derby Day’s prized “gets”—press passes.

Even before 9/11 ruined everything for everyone, getting into Churchill Downs for Derby Day was sort of a hassle. After 9/11, everything changed into something much worse. Seat sections were cordoned off and tightly patrolled. Coolers, cameras, umbrellas and just about anything other than articles of clothing were completely banned, and traffic to and from the track got even worse. So the promise of free parking, a free shuttle bus, free food and unfettered access was too good to pass up—especially since Michelle was able to come along as Eater’s photographer.

There was a bit of trouble getting the passes, as the good people of Churchill Downs are very busy that time of year (and Steve was a bit vague about exactly why a restaurant and nightlife website needed to be at the track). We finally got approval, and when Derby Day arrived, we put on comfortable, casual clothes (journalism!) and took off for a parking lot near Churchill Downs. We boarded a bus with several other media folk, and within minutes arrived at the press facility, where Michelle was loaned a very expensive Canon camera and lens. Steve did a little work and gawked at the people who really had to work that day.

Michelle amused herself mostly by taking pictures of Derby hats.

As we wandered off to explore the Downs, we noticed our passes lacked certain letter combinations, which we came to understand forbade our entry to certain areas we’d hoped to see (Millionaires Row, for example). Nonetheless our “media” status meant we had free access to just about everywhere else, including the track itself. Steve took advantage of this by taking a selfie as the horses approached the Derby starting gate, while Michelle cringed nearby.

We didn’t place a bet, nor generate any particularly meaningful Eater posts. We can’t even remember who won the Derby (though we had a spectacular view of it). We will certainly enjoy this shrimp and grits combination as we get ready for May 2, 2015. But we know we won’t have nearly as good a time as we did last year—though Steve plans to spend part of the day scheming how to become an accepted part of the “media” again.

Grits casserole

By the way, if you are coming to Louisville for the Derby, check out Steve’s restaurant and other suggestions published this week on Tasting Table.


  • Servings: 6-8, more as a buffet side dish
  • Print

(adapted from Bill Neal and David Perry’s Good Old Grits Cookbook)

Cheese grits layer:

  • 1 c. stone-ground grits
  • 4 c. water
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 2 TB butter
  • 1 c. shredded sharp Cheddar cheese
  • a few grates of fresh nutmeg
  • pinch of cayenne pepper
  • black pepper

Put grits in a bowl and add cold water to cover. Skim off and discard whatever chaff rises to the surface of the water. Drain the grits in a fine-meshed sieve.

Bring salted water to a boil in a medium saucepan. Slowly add grits, stirring with a wooden spoon. Cook at a simmer, stirring frequently, according to package directions (about 25 minutes using Kentucky Weisenberger grits).

Remove from heat and stir in butter, cheese, nutmeg, cayenne and black pepper. Add more salt if needed.

Pour cooked grits into a buttered 12 x 9″ (or equivalent) baking dish and level out.

Vegetable and shrimp layer:

  • 8 baby artichokes (or substitute canned or frozen artichoke hearts)
  • 1 lb. shrimp
  • 3 TB butter
  • 1 or 2 small onions, peeled, halved and thinly sliced
  • 1-1/2 c. mushrooms, thinly sliced
  • 4 cloves garlic, peeled and thinly sliced
  • 2 TB white wine
  • 1 TB fresh thyme leaves
  • salt and pepper

Clean baby artichokes, cut in half and place in a bowl of water and lemon juice until ready to cook. Drain artichokes and place in a pan of hot water to simmer for about 5 minutes. Strain. When cooled, cut artichoke pieces in half again.

Place shrimp in boiling water and cook for 2 minutes. Strain and shock in ice water. Shell and clean shrimp.

Melt butter in a large skillet. Add onion, mushrooms and garlic. Sauté until tender, stirring frequently. Add artichokes and toss for a few minutes. Add wine and cook until wine is almost gone. Then add shrimp and sprinkle with thyme. Toss well and season with salt and pepper.

Spoon the mixture over the grits, making sure that the shrimp and vegetables are evenly distributed.

White sauce:

  • 2 c. milk
  • 1 thick slice of onion
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 sprig of fresh thyme
  • 3 TB butter
  • 3 TB flour
  • dash of hot sauce
  • salt and pepper

Place the milk, onion slice, bay leaf and thyme in a medium saucepan. Steep over low to medium heat for 10 minutes. Strain, reserving the milk.

Clean out the saucepan, then return to heat and melt butter in it. Add flour and cook, whisking, for a couple of minutes until flour is cooked but not browned.

Slowly add milk, whisking. Continue to whisk until mixture is thickened. Season to taste with hot sauce, salt and pepper.

Spread the sauce over the vegetables and shrimp.

Bread crumb topping:

  • 1-1/2 TB butter, melted
  • 1/3 c. bread crumbs
  • 2 TB grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 or 2 TB chopped parsley
  • pepper

Toss melted butter and bread crumbs together. Stir in remaining ingredients. Sprinkle over the casserole.

Bake at 350° F until lightly browned and bubbling, 20-30 minutes. (Can be made ahead and refrigerated. Bring to room temperature before baking.)


  1. Get a load of those derby hats! Fun post and love the idea of a casserole with grits, artichokes and shrimp.
    Cheese grits, vegetables and shrimp, sauce and bread crumb topping…oh my goodness!

  2. Bil of Bil's

    This recipe looks great. What a clever arrow to have in your quiver, an easy impromptu dinner with friends. The filling could change with the seasons or the ingredients on hand. Instead of shrimp and artichokes. right now,you could substitute asparagus, julienned country ham and ramps. Later in the summer, thick slices of Brandywine tomatoes, fresh corn and lots of bacon in the bread crumb crust would be delicious. In the fall you could use butternut squash cooked with sausage, roasted fennel, shallots and red peppers. Thank you Steve and Michelle.

  3. Eha

    Well, loved to hear about your Derby, but have but little hope of recreating you moreish-sounding dish! Well, were I to reside in ‘town’ I daresay some US styled grocery store might store ‘grits’ but most of us simply have just heard of the word . . period 🙂 ! Have just Googled grits v polenta which I do oft cook, but a number of differences do emerge!! Geography!!!!

    • I am never going again without a press pass! I spent 20+ years hearing Steve talk about how fun it could be (he had a pass once way back when he was a magazine intern). Frankly, I wish I’d skipped all the ones in between. It’s really not that fun—especially since they’ve made it such a (corporate) police state. But, that’s the world we live in now.

  4. Oh my, this casserole looks beyond wonderful. Artichokes and shrimp to me are a combination hard to surpass. A pity though baby artichokes are very hard to find here in BAvaria, so this one will be on my mind when in France where I´m expecting to be in artichoke paradise.
    The derby sounds like one classy event. Can imagine the shadows thrown onto it after 9/11, making everything suspicious, perhaps even these innocent looking flower hats (think what might be hidden underneath these blossoms)! If I´ll be reborn a millionnaire (or a millionaire´s wife ;-)), I will attend derbies too just to wear a hat like that, though I know I´ll look ridiculous in it!

    • Ah, Sabine, I hope we’re reborn in the same way! Let’s make it multi-millionaires while we’re at it! Hmmmm, I’m not sure about France being an artichoke paradise. Italy, definitely. Maybe you should move there instead. 😉

    • Thanks, Amanda! I’m repeating myself, but, frankly, I’ve never found Derby that fun. (Actually, it was kinda fun years and years ago when you could take in great picnics in coolers and people would sneak in booze while the security folks politely looked the other way.) Mostly it’s a big hassle. Except last year. That was great fun. I was so annoyed about not being able to take in a camera that I said I wasn’t going. Thank goodness Steve talked me down from my rant and rave! But we’re so out of it this year that somebody had to explain to Steve today that they were too busy to do something because it’s Derby Week. He’d forgotten!

  5. Lucky, lucky you going to the Derby! I used to celebrate it every year with my (very southern) neighbors in Virginia. And the casserole sounds delicious. What a combo! (Grits — or nshima — is a staple in Zambia, so I may have to try this with a local replacement for the shrimp.)

    • Oh, I love that you have a grits analog in Zambia. No Derby for us this year. I’m not going again until I’m a multi-millionaire (fat chance) or (more possible) have another press pass!

  6. Haven’t made a casserole in years! This is a wonderful alternative to the cream of mushroom soup concoctions my mom used to make.

    I’m kind of disappointed you didn’t wear a fancy hat while eating this casserole and take your own selfie, Michelle.

    • Me either! It’s too damned bad that Campbell’s ruined everything by forcing people to dump cans of mushroom, celery and other cream soups over everything. Because casseroles can actually be pretty good!

      I admit it: I wore a Derby hat once, c. somewhere around the turn of the century. But I think I destroyed all the photos of the event. 🙂

  7. Oh the hats! How I love the hats! Also fun story: The first time I realized how short the Derby really is was a few years ago when I took a train up to Tacoma to see my family. My aunt (sort of) jokingly complained about having to pick me up at the station at the exact same time the race was starting. In the car, headed to the house, I said, “well maybe it’ll still be going when we get home.” Yeah…not so much. Maybe I could have appeased her with this casserole — it looks seriously amazing!

    • Oh, that’s funny! It is ironic that such a short race requires such a long, long day. Lots of races before it, of course. Not to mention the long walks and/or shuttle buses to/from parking spaces, the lines, etc. Then people go out to eat and to parties. Exhausting! This year, I’ll just stay home and cook something good.

      • I think that’s the best way to do it — it sounds a bit like New Years Eve. Get all excited, dressed up, battle traffic, crowds and craziness all to count down the last ten seconds of the year. I used to go hang out at my husband’s restaurant while he worked – now I just stay home with a bottle of wine and the cats!

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