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corn with scapes, chilies and cilantro

If you skip ahead and read down below, you'll see I'm offering up some stuffed poblanos for lunch. Though if we're being frank, and I think we should be, the stuffing is really the take away today. That corn, and its countless variations, is something I've been making for ages, and I find myself tucking it into all manner of meals.

It started with this soufflé I think — hi there, terrible old point and shoot camera photo — that summer was a good one for corn and our now six-year-old, then less than two, was a major fan. I'd cook it until just barely tender, in butter with salt and pepper, fresh off the cobs we'd buy at the farmstand. Then I started adding onion, then garlic, then lime and herbs, and sometimes peppers, served hot and warm and at room temperature. As long as there was corn to start, there was a clean plate to finish.

And so ever since, sautéed corn has been in our rotation. As the base to corn puddings; cooked in olive oil and stirred through with torn basil, for a side along with a chicken that was spatchcocked and roasted over flames; or with fresh oregano in a salad, offering sweet against the aggressive salt of feta; or with slices of young chèvre in skinny omelets.

Like I said, it's useful... 

 

To read the rest, and get the recipe for poblano chiles stuffed with corn, please visit Seven Spoons.
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A few days ago, early last Saturday morning to be precise, Sean and I had a complete breakdown in communication.

We were at the Farmer's Market, me with one perched on my hip and another clasping my hand, and Sean across the way. It was a busy morning, so while our boys snacked on their standard sample from the nearby bakery, Sean waded into the current of people to gather our purchases.

Usually, our over-and-through-the-crowd brand of semaphore works a treat. This time, not so much. With all the hustle and bustle, our signals got crossed and the quantities of our request was lost in translation. Long story short, we ended up with a surfeit of corn. Double the intended amount, to be exact.

Not a terrible mistake, by any means, as the corn in question was fresh, local stuff, with neat rows of bicoloured kernels nestled snugly under tender green husks. Not terrible in the least.

A first impulse would be to tear back that blanket of green and roast the Dickens out of those ears atop a charcoal grill. Blistered black and concentrated sweet, I would gleefully dig in to the barbecued beauties. Or steamed tender-crisp, with a smear of sweet butter and scattering of crunchy flakes of salt - there were days of possibilities for our plenty.

The trouble was, more than a few of those possibilities included the application of heat. And did I mention to you that Summer huffed and puffed our way last week? With sweaty palms and hot breath, the season (finally) truly settled in on the 15th of August. And, no doubt about it, Summer is making up for lost time.

As I write this, it is 40°C with the humidex (104°F). While I am not all that bothered by the temperatures, by far preferring hot over cold, my boys are wilting more than a little bit. The heat has kept their mops eternally mussed, their ruddy cheeks shine with a thin sheen of perspiration and their kisses have turned salty.

You can understand then, that I am not in the least inclined to crank up the oven and overheat our happy home or add any fire to our already-sultry backyard.

As luck would have it, a little while prior to our misunderstanding at the market*, I had enjoyed this salad from Anna Olson. Served at her shop, it was subtle and sweet, but my version alters hers ever so slightly; here, there is oomph to be had.

Stripped from the cob, plump gold and ivory nuggets glisten with a slick of olive oil in a pan for nothing but the shortest of sojourns, then it's a tumble with an edible confetti of shallots, chili, green onion and herbs. The blueberries are next, an addition that brings musky depth and even more mouth-quenching moisture. Squeeze on some lime, crumble over brackish nuggets of fresh cheese, and off it all goes to chill.

In the intervening minutes between mix and serve is when everything happens. The corn turns sweeter, it's flavour amplified by the citrus and complimented by berries that shimmer onyx-bright. Fresh onion contrasts mellowed, cooked tones, the chilies release gentle heat into it all.

May all misunderstandings result in such dividends.

* It might just be the temperature finally getting to me, but doesn't The Misunderstanding at the Market sound like the title to an Agatha Christie mystery? Or at least a Harlequin romance novel?

BLUEBERRY CORN SALAD

Adapted from a recipe by Anna Olson. Queso fresco is a fresh Mexican cheese that has a mild, creamy taste.

INGREDIENTS

  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, plus additional for drizzling (optional)
  • 3 cups fresh corn kernels (about 4 ears)
  • 1 large shallot, minced
  • 1/2 cup chopped green onion
  • 2 red chilies, finely minced, seeded if desired
  • 1 1/2 cups fresh blueberries
  • 1/2 cup fresh cilantro leaves, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons lime juice
  • 1/2 cup crumbled feta or queso fresco
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

METHOD

In a large sauté pan over medium high heat, add the olive oil, then the corn. Sauté for about 2 minutes, until the corn begins to brighten in colour. Add the shallot and cook for 1 minute more, stirring often. Remove pan from the heat, stir in the green onion and red chilies. Season to taste with salt and black pepper. Allow the vegetables to cool to room temperature.

In a large bowl, combine the corn mixture with the blueberries and cilantro tossing gently to combine. Pour over the lime juice, along with an extra glug of olive oil if desired. Stir again, then gently fold in the feta or queso fresco. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour, checking for seasoning before serving.

Serves 4.

As a child of the 1980s, I have a deep affection for that era of roller skate - the ones with four wheels and the bright red, eraser-like stopper attached to the toe. I spent many an hour touring the neighbourhood in my skates, confident as can be.

Flash forward 20 years later and you can imagine my trepidation when my dear Sean strapped brand new rollerblades on me and assumed I would be steady on my feet. Facing the downhill slope of a rather steep hill, little did he expect the athletic debacle that would follow.

To make a long story short, I ricocheted off of a fence once or twice on my way down. Since then if faced with the slightest of declines, I am happy to veer off the road, sit myself down in the grass and watch the world roll by.

In this case I am all too happy to indulge my cowardice.

But one arena in which I have rarely shown fear has been the kitchen. Whether it was youthful exuberance or sheer naive ego, I would be hard pressed to remember a recipe that I have shied away from due to lack of experience. I will either place my confidence in quality of the recipe or in my own common sense, and then pray for the best.

That is not to say that errors have not been made; I could tell stories of some spectacular culinary failures that culminated in me laughing and crying all at once, as I reached for the phone to order takeout. But for whatever reason, these catastrophes have never fazed me. A simple shrug of the shoulder later, a wipe down of the counters and I am usually ready to tackle my next attempt.

It was with this touch of hubris that I made my first soufflé. Not smart enough to heed the many horror stories of fallen hopes, I happily whipped, folded and baked my way to airy perfection. Maybe it was assuredness that was the secret of my success. Maybe it was my assumption that all will be well was what made it so. Since that triumph, I have never looked back; both savoury and sweet offerings have graced our table. I have fallen in love with soufflés, with their luscious eggy density and slightly tender belly.

This corn and cheddar version has been a favourite since first taste. With a subtle background heat playing off of the sweetness of fresh corn, it is a wonderful balance of flavours for a light summer supper. The procedure is surprisingly simple and forgiving; stir the roux patiently, do not overwhip your egg whites, fold the batter gently. Bake until set without peeking in the oven, and your bravery will be rewarded with awe at the table. Who needs a greater ego-boost than that?

Sweet corn and white cheddar soufflé, with herbs and chili

Ingredients
Kernels from 2 ears of fresh corn
1 medium onion or 2 large shallots, cut into small dice
1 small red chili, finely minced
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons butter, plus more for greasing the ramekins
2 tablespoons plus 1/3 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese, separated
3 tablespoons all purpose flour
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
3/4 cup milk
3 eggs, separated
1/2 cup grated aged white cheddar
1 teaspoon chopped parsley
2 teaspoons chopped basil
1 tablespoon chopped cilantro (coriander)

Preheat oven 375°F (190°C). Lightly grease four 3/4 cup capacity ramekins with butter, then coat with Parmesan.

In a sauté pan over medium heat, melt one tablespoon of the butter. Add the corn, onion and chili and cook, stirring, until the corn is tender and the onion is translucent. Remove the vegetables to a small bowl and set aside to cool.

In the same pan over medium low heat, melt the remaining butter. Whisk in the flour, cayenne and nutmeg, then cook this mixture for about 2 minutes. Slowly add the milk, whisking constantly to combine. Continue to cook, for about 3 minutes, until the sauce is thick and smooth. Turn off the heat, whisk in egg yolks, cheddar, remaining Parmesan and herbs. Stir in the corn and vegetable mixture. Set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer with the whisk attachment, or with a hand mixer, beat the egg whites to stiff (but not dry) peaks. Using a spatula, fold one third of the egg whites into the soufflé base. Continue to fold each third in, only until just combined.

Divide the soufflé batter among the four prepared ramekins. Sprinkle with additional finely grated cheddar or Parmesan, if desired.

Gently place ramekins into a roasting pan or large casserole dish. Fill the pan with water from a recently-boiled kettle, until it comes halfway up the sides of the ramekins. Bake in the preheated oven for 20 minutes, until crowned and golden.

Serve immediately, makes 4.

Notes:

• For a more impressive crown to your soufflé, rather than one that will just coyly peek over the edge of the dish as seen here, use a slightly smaller ramekin.
• When folding in the egg whites, I usually let a few streaks of white to remain for my first two additions as I know those will dissipate with the last addition. This allowance will prevent you from overworking the batter and deflating the volume.