by Kelly of The Meaning of Pie
The last time I was at a meeting of Texas and Wisconsin, it was in the now demolished Texas football stadium, and I have to say, we Texans were not so hospitable on that day. Now, I don’t even remember who won the game. I simply remember how much fun it was being in the stands for that matchup of true beloved warriors. Not many love so deeply as those from Texas and Wisconsin, at least where football and food are concerned.
I’m pleased to say that I have found a way for us all to not only respect but also love one other. No, it has nothing to do with football, but it has everything to do with cheese. Yes, cheese. While Texas is surely making strides in its artisanal foods, Wisconsin is still the American Mecca for cheese lovers.
I have mixed a truly Texas dish with the most Wisconsin of cheeses, and the results were stellar. There is a restaurant in Buffalo Gap out in west Texas called Perini’s. It is an original, and it makes an effort to invent and prepare meals in the chuck wagon tradition that are both wholesome and have the highest quality. One of my all-time favorite recipes is its Green Chile Hominy.
Hominy is essentially corn from which the hard outer shell and germ have been removed. Grits are a hominy product, as is the masa used to make tamales. Hominy, grits and masa are Southern staples.
My Green Chile Hominy is adapted from Perini’s and is really one of the most versatile side dishes of all time. It is suitable for any time of day and has my favorite attribute—it can be prepared ahead of time and kept in the refrigerator or frozen, so it is perfect for those times that you are preparing for a crowd. And if this were not enough, it is made with ingredients that are abundant and inexpensive.
This is a dish in which cheese and peppers are the central ingredients. Knowing this, I pulled out the best cheese I had at my disposal, which was a fresh block of medium Wisconsin Cheddar from Nasonville Dairy. It is located in Marshfield, Wisconsin, and has been making cheese since 1885—and is very good at it. Cheese making is an artisanal craft, and Nasonville does it on a grand scale, producing over 100,000 pounds daily.
I like medium Cheddar. Over the years I have found that it is the best choice for great Cheddar flavor that also melts nicely. In this dish it mixes with the juices of the hominy and results in a velvety, smooth cheese sauce that is accented perfectly by jalapeño peppers, serrano peppers and green chiles. Did I mention there is bacon in this, too? I am extremely fond of this dish.
This creates a very generous 9” by 13” casserole. Or, you can separate it into two smaller casseroles if you are entertaining on a smaller scale and want to freeze half. I prepared two large single-serve ramekins and one small casserole dish. I baked the ramekins right away and put the other in the freezer fully assembled but before the final stint in the oven.
Wisconsin Cheddar Green Chile Hominy
1 lb of bacon, cooked crisp and chopped
1 large onion, chopped
3 fresh jalapeño peppers, seeded and chopped
2 fresh serrano peppers, seeded and chopped
5 (15-oz) cans of white hominy (drained, with a little juice left in the can)
1 (7-oz) can chopped green chiles
3/4 lb medium Wisconsin Cheddar cheese, shredded (divided use)
Fry the bacon and move it to a paper towel to drain, reserving about 2 tablespoons of drippings for sautéing the onions and peppers. When the bacon is cool enough, chop it into pieces and set it aside. In the reserved bacon drippings, sauté the chopped onions for about 3 minutes. The onions will pick up all of the tasty brown bacon bits off of the bottom of the pan and turn rather brown…this is a good thing. After about 3 minutes, add the chopped serranos and jalapeños to the onions. Continue to sauté for another 3 to 4 minutes until the onions and peppers are nicely softened.
Meanwhile, in a large stockpot, heat the hominy. You will have removed most of the juice, so stir it occasionally to make sure the hominy doesn’t stick to the pan. Once heated, remove the hominy from the heat and add the entire can of green chilies and stir to combine. Now, add 2/3 of the cheese to the hominy. I used about 2 heaping cups of cheese. Mix the cheese into the hominy. Finally, add the peppers, onions and 2/3 of the bacon and gently stir to combine. Spray the casserole dish with nonstick cooking spray and fill it with the hominy mixture.
Decorate the casserole top with the remaining cheese and bacon. At this point, you can refrigerate or freeze the dish. Or, proceed to bake the casserole in a 325 degree Fahrenheit oven, until the cheese has melted and the hominy is nice and hot, about 25 minutes. It will take longer if it has been in the refrigerator.
I love this stuff, and I think you will too. If you are nervous about the peppers, feel free to scale back. The green chilies are very mild. If you have a tender palate, consider reducing to 1 jalapeño. But I say, go for it. The authentic Wisconsin cheese is a nice touch in this Texas classic.