Tiny Miracles, and Sweet Corn Soup
I started this blog because I wanted a place to write about what I love, a place to record what happens in my kitchen, and a place to share recipes with friends and family and anyone else who might find them useful. Since Josie, it isn’t just that it’s difficult to take the time to write (which it is). It’s that the whole way I cook has changed with a little person around, and I haven’t figured out how to share that process. It’s not necessarily that I cook different kinds of foods; for the most part, Josie eats what we eat, and is happy to do so. It is more about what actually happens during the cooking, a juggling act which involves very little measuring and a good deal of haste; hungry toddlers are grouchy creatures. What that means is that when it’s over each night, I generally have no idea what happened, much less recipe notes or photographs to show for it. If I tried to give you a peek into our kitchen window, most days you’d have to stand on your tiptoes to see over the piles of vegetables, a trail of plastic bowls and cups “washed” by Josie, and the tangle of books, paper, and markers that follow us from room to room. But amidst the mess, cooking is happening every day, which seems like a tiny miracle all by itself.
Corn and tomatoes are farmer’s market staples for our family during the summer months, as I imagine they are for many of you who try to eat seasonally and locally. Sometimes I find myself staring at yet another heaping pile of shiny red globes or tripping over the bag of yet-to-be-shucked corn in the corner of the kitchen wondering how on earth I will ever find a way to use them creatively. To help solve that existential crisis, I’ve been assembling a collection of recipes: a dozen ears of corn and a box of tomatoes (somewhere between 3 and 5 pounds) come home with us every Saturday, and sometimes one or both ingredients will form the center for a whole week’s worth of meals. So I thought I’d share a bit about what some of those meals look like while I remember. With a little extra prep the night before, these dinners are not terribly fancy, but they are economical, fairly easy to make, and the one, unfailing qualification in my kitchen: delicious enough to enjoy for dinner and lunch the next day.
Day One: usually, I try to cook and use the corn as quickly as possible; the farmer I buy it from has picked it the day before, but once harvested, the sugars start to break down, and the corn starts to lose its flavor. (It’s still good after day 3, but best before that). If I want to make a dinner where the main event is the flavor of the corn, that usually happens on Monday. One such recipe that’s all about sweet, fresh corn is a very simple soup.
This recipe is based on Sara Foster’s Summer White Corn Soup. The genius of the recipe is the broth: while you’re preparing everything else, you put a big pot of water on to boil, add the stripped corn cobs, basil stems, onion trimmings, and a palmful of salt. The boiling water leeches out all of the vegetable’s goodness, so that the finished soup tastes of little else but sweet summer corn. I make twice as much as I need for the soup and reserve it for corn and tomato risotto later in the week.
I serve the soup with crusty bread, rubbed with butter and garlic, and a big salad. For company or a special occasion, I like to top the soup with boiled shrimp.
Sweet Summer Corn Soup
–adapted from Sara Foster, Fresh Everyday
6 ears sweet corn, shucked and stripped from the cobs, cobs reserved
1/2 cup milk
1 T. butter
1 T. olive oil
1 sweet onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, chopped
2 small new potatoes, scrubbed and chopped
4 cups corn broth (see method below)
coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1/2 cup fresh basil leaves, thinly sliced
First, start the broth: in a large stock pot, cover the stripped corn cobs, basil stems, and onion and garlic trimmings with 4 quarts of water. Sprinkle with 2 teaspoons of salt and a couple of grinds of black pepper. Bring to a boil, and then reduce the heat to a simmer. It will reduce quickly, so keep an eye on it; if it reduces by more than half, add more water. You should end up with about 2 quarts of broth.
Meanwhile, put the corn kernels in a small saucepan with the milk. Heat gently over medium heat, just until the milk bubbles and foams. Reduce the heat and simmer for another 5-7 minutes. Set aside to cool.
In a larger saucepan, heat the oil and butter over medium, and add the onion. Cook until very soft and beginning to turn golden, about 15 minutes. Stir in the garlic and cook for another minute or two. Add the chopped potato, 4 cups of broth, and half of the basil. Turn the heat up to medium-high. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, and taste. Add more if it needs it. When it begins to boil, turn it down to a simmer and cook for another 20 or 30 minutes, until the potato is soft enough to mash with a fork.
Next, puree half of the corn-milk mixture in a food processor or blender. Stir the puree into the soup, and add the remaining corn and milk. Salt as needed, and serve with the remaining basil leaves sprinkled on top. The leftover corn broth will keep in the fridge for a week or so, and indefinitely in the freezer.