Cooking up sweet, sweet corn
Late each summer, I like to keep my eyes open as I walk past the corner greengrocer's to see if the sweet corn (not to be confused with seed corn, which is grown as animal feed) has arrived. For me, it hasn't really been summer until I enjoy some beautiful sweet corn on the cob.
Of course, it's really bittersweet, because the arrival of corn signals the approach of autumn. Yes, the harvest is in, and soon the leaves will start to change, so to better enjoy summer's bounty while it is here I asked several cookbook authors for some delicious sweet-corn recipes.
Moira Sanders and Lori Elstone offer a breakfast treat in the form of "Sweet Corn Fritters with Peameal Bacon," from their book The Harrow Fair Cookbook.
Tony de Luca serves up "August Corn Chowder" from his book Simply in Season: 12 Months of Wine Country Cooking.
Jennie Schacht lays on dessert with "Cornmeal Cake with Fresh Corn and Berries," from her book, Farmers' Markets Desserts.
My recipe this month is a simple yet flavourful preparation for grilled corn on the cob. It takes advantage of the abundance of fresh herbs also available at this time of the year. Grilling the corn with the herbs inside the husks imparts a mild flavour of rosemary and thyme to the corn.
Grilled Sweet Corn with Rosemary and Thyme
Ingredients (serves six)
- 6 ears sweet corn
- 12 sprigs fresh rosemary
- 12 sprigs fresh thyme
- 2 tbsp (30 ml) butter
- Salt & pepper
Wash the herb sprigs, but don't pick off the leaves. Peel the husks of the corn back to within about 1 inch (2.5 cm) of the stem end of the cob, but don't pull them off completely. Clean away all of the corn silk. Stick two sprigs each of rosemary and thyme upright into the husks, spaced evenly around the corn cob. Close the husks back around the corn and herbs. Seal the ends of the husks by tying kitchen twine tightly around the pointed end of each cob. Soak the cobs in cold water for 20 minutes.
Heat your barbecue to 500°F (260°C). Place the corn, with husks still on, onto the grill. Cook for five minutes, cover down, then roll the cobs over and repeat. Remove the corn from the grill, cut the twine and pull off and discard the husks and the herbs. Return the corn cobs to the grill and lightly char on all sides.
To serve, cut each cob in half cross-wise and toss in a large bowl with salt, pepper and butter.
Moira Sanders' and Lori Elstone's Sweet Corn Fritters With Peameal Bacon
"The Harrow Fair is 156 years old this year and it is one of the oldest continually running agricultural fairs in the country," says Sanders.
The fair attracts more that 70,000 people and sees more that 7,000 exhibits entered into its competitions, which include everything from canning, baking and pie eating to livestock shows and tractor pulls.
Sanders' and Elstone's new book, The Harrow Fair Cookbook, is an homage to the fair, presenting award-winning recipes from past fairs as well as recipes inspired by the harvest.
"We started entering things in the contest about four years ago," says Sanders. "I won best apple pie in show last year. Lori won first for her rhubarb custard pie, which was our grandmother's recipe. I won first for my date squares last year. Our mom is always a big winner with jams and jellies."
If you want those prize-winning recipes — and many others (including one for a wild black raspberry and blueberry pie that sold for $2,400 at auction!) — you'll have to pick up their book. Meanwhile, the fritters below, says Sanders, were inspired by the gorgeous corn and field tomatoes available at the end of summer.
"We wanted something that used corn for breakfast," she said, adding that this recipe "has the best of the best seasonal stuff."
Sweet Corn Fritters With Peameal Bacon
Reprinted with permission from The Harrow Fair Cookbook by Moira Sanders and Lori Elstone (Whitecap Books)
Served with thin slices of peameal bacon and ripe beefsteak tomatoes, these sweet corn fritters are the perfect breakfast dish. If someone in your family prefers a sweeter start to their day, these fritters are also great served with butter and real maple syrup.
Ingredients (serves four)
- 1 tbsp (15 ml) vegetable oil
- 8 slices peameal bacon
- 2 large eggs, separated
- 1/2 tsp (2.5 ml) fine sea salt
- 3 tbsp (45 ml) all-purpose flour
- 1 cup (250 ml) fresh sweet corn kernels
- 1/4 cup (60 ml) finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
- 1/4 cup (60 ml) vegetable oil (approximately)
- 8 slices fresh beefsteak tomatoes
- Finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
Preheat the oven to 225°f (105°C).
Place the oil in a large skillet set over medium heat. Once hot (see note), add the peameal bacon. Cook for two minutes on each side or until lightly browned and cooked through. Transfer the cooked slices to a plate and cover with aluminum foil until needed.
Wipe down the surface of the skillet for use in making the fritters.
Add enough oil to coat the bottom of the skillet. Heat the oil over medium-high heat.
Add the batter to the hot oil in 2-tbsp (30 ml) dollops. Do not overcrowd the pan. Gently flatten the fritters and fry for two minutes on each side or until golden brown. Place the fried fritters on a baking sheet and keep warm in the oven. Add more oil to the pan, as needed, to fry remaining fritters.
Assembly: Set out four plates. Place two corn fritters on each plate and top each with a slice of peameal bacon, a slice of tomato, and a sprinkling of parsley.
[NOTE: The Harrow Fair Cookbook suggests that to determine when oil is hot enough for frying, you can sprinkle a few drops of water over the pan. If the water sizzles on impact, the oil is ready. Sprinkle carefully at arm's length, as the hot oil may not only sizzle but also spatter when the water hits it.]
Tony de Luca's August Corn Chowder
"When my mother opened the restaurant, I was 13 and I didn't really think of cooking as a profession," he said, "but all the while in high school, as I was working in the kitchen, I developed skills. I did attend university for a year, but to say that I was misguided is not an exaggeration. I didn't do very well, and I had a revelation where I said to myself, 'What am I doing here? What can I do well?' And the only thing I could do well was cook. So at that point, I got serious about it."
De Luca went on to work overseas, in England, and in many of Ontario's best kitchens, including the Windsor Arms Hotel, Langdon Hall, Millcroft Inn, and Hillebrand Winery. Today, he owns two respected restaurants in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont.: The Old Winery Restaurant, a traditional Italian restaurant, and de Luca's Wine Country Restaurant, which he describes as more of a farm-to-table restaurant.
De Luca said his new book, Simply in Season, is inspired by the wonderful produce and other seasonal ingredients he works with at his restaurants.
"I believe that chefs have a responsibility to their customers to identify the provenance of their raw materials," he said. "I want to know what I'm eating. It is all tied to the farmers and growers. When you get to know the people in your community who are growing the carrots and peaches, or raising the rabbits or making the wine, it is all tied into a system. When the balance is there, it's beautiful."
August Corn Chowder
August is the perfect time to enjoy corn. It's best served straight from the pot slathered with butter, but another great way to enjoy corn is in a soup, such as this satisfying chowder. If you are an ambitious cook, make a stock from the ears that you've removed the kernels from and use the stock for this soup (instead of chicken or vegetable stock). Simply simmer the ears in enough water to cover them for about one hour. Any leftover corn stock can be frozen for future use.
Ingredients (serves six)
- 2 tbsp (30 ml) unsalted butter
- 4 slices double-smoked bacon, finely chopped
- 2 stalks celery, finely chopped
- ½ cup (125 ml) chopped onion
- ½ cup (125 ml) finely chopped carrot
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 2 cups (500 ml) fresh corn kernels (about 4 medium ears)
- 1½ cups (375 ml) peeled potatoes, diced into about ¼-inch (6 mm) cubes
- 4 cups (1 L) chicken or vegetable stock
- 1 cup (250 ml) 35% cream
- Kosher salt and black pepper to taste
- 1 tbsp (15 ml) finely chopped parsley or chives
- Smoked paprika for garnish (optional)
Heat a large, heavy pot over medium heat and add the butter. When the butter foams, add the bacon, reduce the heat to low, and cook the bacon until it is brown and crispy. Add the celery, onion, carrot and garlic and sauté, stirring frequently, for 15 minutes or until softened but not browned.
Add the stock and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Cover and simmer until the vegetables are just tender. Add the cream and season with salt and pepper to taste. Bring the soup to a simmer again, then remove the saucepan from the heat and let cool slightly.
Transfer half of the soup to a blender (not a food processor) and blend until smooth. Return the blended soup to the saucepan and stir to combine. Bring to a simmer once more.
To serve, ladle the soup into 6 warm soup bowls and sprinkle each portion with parsley or chives, and smoked paprika if desired.
Jennie Schacht's Cornmeal Cake with Fresh Corn and Berries
"The book sprung out of the idea that the more people know where their food is coming from — who the producer is and how it's grown — the healthier they are likely to be," says Schacht. "When we have a close relationship to the people who grow our foods, it's easier to hold them accountable for the methods they are using. You can walk up to someone at the farmer's market and ask them, 'Was this grown organically? Was it sprayed with any pesticides?' You can learn a lot about their farming practices. If you're not happy with their methods, you can tell them. But in my experience, most of the people who bring their products to farmers' markets are very interested in growing things in sustainable and healthy ways."
Schacht said there is a widespread interest in returning to making foods at home, and in reducing consumption of industrialized, processed foods.
"People are making their own products," says Schacht, "they're making their own cheese, and their own jams, doing things their grandparents used to do."
However, not everyone grew up with such traditional treats. When Schacht was working on the book, and her 86-year-old mother decided she wanted to make the cornmeal cake below for her bridge club, it came as a shock to Schacht.
"I said, 'Mom, you haven't ever baked a cake,'" said Schacht. "But she replied, 'Oh yes I did. I baked one from a box for your brother's birthday when you were young.' So she baked the cornmeal cake for her bridge club and it was phenomenal to see her, at that age, bake her first cake from scratch."
"The surprise about this cake is that the corn and raspberries go so nicely together," says Schacht, who is a self-taught cook. "You don't think they'd go well together, but they do. It's lovely. And the olive oil adds a nice fruity, earthy taste."
Cornmeal Cake with Fresh Corn & Berries
Reprinted with permission from Farmers' Market Desserts by Jennie Schacht (Chronicle Books)
Why shouldn't corn play a starring role in a dessert? Fresh from the field, it's as sweet as most fruits - sweeter than many. This moist cake gets a double-corn wallop, with a little crunch from cornmeal and sweet bursts of fresh corn, all balanced by sweet-tart blackberries. The cake is best the day it is made but will remain moist if stored tightly covered at room temperature for up to three days.
Ingredients (serves eight)
- 1 pint, or about 2 cups (500 ml) blackberries or raspberries
- 3/4 cup (187.5 ml) corn kernels (from about 1 ear corn)
- 1 cup (250 ml) plus 2 tbsp (30 ml) unbleached all-purpose flour
- 1 cup (250 ml) granulated sugar
- 1/2 cup (125 ml) fine or medium stone-ground yellow cornmeal
- 1 tsp (5 ml) baking powder
- 1/4 tsp (2.5 ml) baking soda
- 1/8 tsp (1.25 ml) kosher salt
- 2 large eggs
- 1/2 cup (125 ml) buttermilk
- 1/3 cup (83 ml) extra virgin olive oil
- Lightly sweetened, softly whipped cream, for serving (optional)
1. Preheat the oven to 350°F (177°C), with a rack near the center. Oil an eight-by-two-inch (20-by-5 cm) round cake pan. Dust the pan with flour, tapping out the excess.
2. Set aside one cup of the berries for garnish. Put the remaining one cup (250 ml) berries into a small bowl with the corn kernels. Sprinkle with the two tablespoons (30m ml) flour and two tablespoons (30 ml) of the sugar. Stir gently to coat and set aside.
3. Stir together the remaining one cup (250 ml) flour, 3/4 cup (187.5 ml) of the remaining sugar, and the cornmeal, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a medium bowl. Whisk together the eggs, buttermilk and olive oil in a small bowl or measuring cup. Stir the egg mixture into the flour mixture just until they are well combined. Gently fold the floured-and-sugared berries and corn into the batter.
4. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and spread evenly. Bake until the top is golden and a toothpick inserted near the centre tests clean, 40 to 45 minutes. Let cool in the pan on a wire rack until almost completely cool. Run a thin knife around the inside edge of the pan to loosen the cake sides. Invert a flat plate or baking sheet over the pan and invert the pan and plate together to release the cake. Lift off the pan, then invert the cake again onto a serving plate.
5. A few minutes before serving, toss the reserved berries with the remaining two tablespoons (30 ml) sugar. Serve the cake slightly warm or at room temperature. Top each slice with a dollop of whipped cream, if desired, and a scattering of sugared berries.