Thursday, September 24, 2015

Late Summer Corn and Tomato Alternative -- Soup but not Chowder

There are only so many times you can have fresh farm stand corn cooked gently on the grill served naked without butter or salt because it's so sweet just by itself, accompanied by a simple plate of heirloom tomatoes harvested from the garden, perhaps with a light sprinkle of salt and pepper and a topping of chopped basil (also from the garden).  With a side dish of grilled chicken.  This is otherwise known as Sunday dinner around here, because I would make twice or three times as much corn as needed so that it could be eaten cold straight out of the fridge or cut into salads during the week (usually with tomatoes).  And two or three times as much chicken.  Only so many times.  Susan was starting to roll her eyes.  So was I.

In my defense, it was a hot summer.  Anything that involved turning on the indoor stove was off limits, and raw tomatoes needed no heat.  But still, there are only so many times.  The temperature had dropped, so a corn and tomato chowder would be perfect.

Here's what I had on hand:  Six ears of white corn from Wilson Farms (the white corn is here, shouted the signs...who could resist?), and some tomatoes from the garden.  The recipe surfing I did for inspiration mostly turned up chowders that relied on cream or milk, but I thought that much dairy would overwhelm the subtle flavors of the corn and tomatoes.  Bacon was a common theme, and I had a few slices in the freezer awaiting a mission.  Bacon would give the soup some depth.  One or two recipes had shallots, which I thought would work well.  I had a few Zavory hot peppers, "the first habaneros with mild heat" from the garden.  My experience with them so far this season was that they were very mild, so I intended to use six or seven, hoping for some mild heat.
An abundance of sage!!

The recipes I found without dairy called for using chicken stock.  My feeling was this would overwhelm the corn and tomato flavor, so I opted for making a corn stock from the denuded corn cobs.  Once I was well into the soup making I realized that some herbs would work well.  Basil would be my usual choice, but just outside the kitchen door was an abundance of sage, which I don't use nearly as often.  So at the last minute I piled up about 10 leaves of the sage on the cutting board, cut them once to open the insides, and tied the stack into a little bundle with a silicone band.  Kitchen twine would work too, or even just chop up the sage and add near the end of the cooking.

The result was a mildly flavored soup, heavily sweet from the fresh sweet corn, with some depth provided by the tomatoes.  Some labneh gave the dish a little tang, and when trying the leftovers the next night I added in a little Cholula hot sauce, and moderately hot vinegar-based hot sauce, where vinegar is an important part of the flavor.  Plain sherry vinegar would work well too if you don't want the heat.

Corn and Tomato Soup

Yield: Serves 4-6
Total Time: 45 min
Great for a late summer appetizer or main dish on a cool evening.  It keeps well in the refrigerator for a few days.


  • 6 ears corn, kernels stripped off, ears reserved for use in the stock
  • 4-6 small tomatoes, or 1-2 large
  • 1-2 habanero peppers (optional, more or less to taste)
  • 1 large shallot, minced
  • 3 strips bacon, chopped
  • 10 leaves fresh sage, more for garnish
  • 4-6 teaspoons of labneh or greek yogurt or creme fraiche or sour cream (one per serving bowl), or to taste
  • Vinegar based moderate hot sauce (such as Cholula) or sherry vinegar, depending on your taste.
  • salt and pepper to taste
  1. In a large saucepan or dutch oven, cook the bacon on medium-high heat for about 10 minutes until the bacon is crisp.  Reserve the bacon for later, and pour off all but one tablespoon of the bacon fat.
  2. Saute the shallot and peppers in the bacon fat for a few minutes, until translucent.
  3. Put the corn cobs in the pan, and CAREFULLY add water to cover cobs (water and hot fat will spatter!)  If your cobs don't fit in one layer, only cover the first layer.  Bring to a boil and simmer for 15 minutes.  Rotate the ears of corn so that they all get some time in the water.  Remove and discard the cobs.
  4. Add all but 1/2 cup of the corn kernels and all of the tomatoes.  Cut the sage leaves once to open them up, and tie with kitchen twine or a silicone band so that they can be easily removed. (Alternatively, cut them in a chiffonade and add them toward the end of the cooking time.)  Cook for 5-10 minutes, until the corn gets a little tender.
  5. Remove from the heat and use an immersion blender to buzz the soup to whatever texture you like.  Alternatively, use a blender and blend in batches filling to only 1/3 full to avoid overflow of hot soup (not good!)
  6. Return to the heat and add in the reserved corn kernels.  Cook for a few minutes.
  7. Add salt and pepper to taste.
  8. Serve in soup bowls with a dollop of the labneh or sour dairy of your choice and some drops of the hot sauce or vinegar, if desired, to taste.
 Click here for printable recipe.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Pesto, without the nasty cleanup

It's September, and our three basil plants have been supplying us all spring and summer.  As long as I keep up with the occasional flower, they seem happy.  With the season winding down, it was time to give them a major haircut, which means it's pesto time!

I love pesto, but I loathe the mess.  Typically, I dump the ingredients--basil leaves, oil, garlic, pine nuts (or walnuts), salt and pepper into the food processor, give it a whir, rearrange the leaves several times, and repeat until I get a nice "paste" of tiny basil bits suspended in the oil.  (I typically add the Parmesan cheese later, because I often make enough to freeze, and pesto laden with Parmesan doesn't freeze well--or so I've heard).  But the result is an oily food processor with those tiny basil bits splattered all over the food processor parts--a chore to clean up.

So it was with great excitement that I read the following lines from one of the e-mail blasts from Kitchen Gardeners International (KGI):  "My preferred "presto with little mess-to" method is using a stick blender which I find easier to wash up and less wasteful than a food processor."  I assumed that a "stick blender" was British for an immersion blender, and was game to try this.  

I found the method worked best by turning the blender on and stirring it around the bowl to make sure to capture all the basil.  The stirring was the same motion you'd use for stirring anything else in a bowl.  After about a minute or so, I had a nice creamy pesto sauce, which I added to the homemade pasta dug out of the archives in the freezer (May 2015). and topped with some grated Parmesan cheese.

So thank you KGI!  And thanks for the video showing how to make TRUE pesto as done in Genoa, with a mortar and pestle.  (And if you need a pesto recipe, the proportions there are as good as any).  Some day I will try this, but until then, I'm sold on the stick-blender method.

Also, a by-the-way shoutout to KGI.  If you're at all into gardening, or think you might want to be into gardening if only you knew what to do, this is a must-have resource.  They have a great website with articles and videos.  But best of all have an online garden planner that lets you lay out your garden and it generates a planting schedule and shopping list.  It also keeps track of what you've planted for next year, so you can take advantage of succession planting concepts.  It costs $25 per year once you've used up your free month, but it's well worth it.  ESPECIALLY because they plow the money back into all sorts of good causes.  Last year, they gave grants to 200 community gardens around the world in their Sow it Forward Food Garden Grants!


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