Imagine trudging into a field on a sticky summer morning to pull corn. It's like boot camp. You can't stop until the pickup truck is full. And then ear by ear, you spend the rest of the day shucking and silking — until there's not a single ear of corn left in the truck.
Luckily, we only did this once a year on the south Georgia farm where I grew up. After we cleaned the corn, our mother grated it into the big rectangular pan that was normally used for roasting the Thanksgiving turkey. She'd cook it briefly, then "put it up" in the freezer in pint-size plastic bags, so that we would have corn to eat for months to come.
Over the years, this over-the-top ritual has shrunk considerably. But every summer, I look forward to the box of golden sweet corn that my farmer/brother, Wade, gives me. This season, it was a bi-color hybrid called Obsession. So for days, I have been wearing Obsession all over my face — like some Calvin Swine, dripping with salt and butter.
Being a Southern boy, my favorite way to cook corn is to "fry" it in an iron skillet with a hunk of butter (bacon fat if you dare) and perhaps a handful or two of chopped onion. You can make perfect corn on the cob by steaming it — still in the shuck — in the microwave. Simply trim each end of an ear; remove the coarse outer husks; put it on a plate, and zap it for 3-4 minutes. Let it cool for a minute or two, and it peels like a dream. Butter, salt, obsession.
For fancier cooks, there's an endless array of corn dishes: soups and chowders, puddings and souffles, salsas and relishes, stir fries and salads. And, yes, ladies and gents, there's even ice cream. That we call a-maize-ing grace. Turn inside for recipes for Scott Peacock and Edna Lewis' Corn Pudding; Roasted Corn Salad with Fresh Basil, Roasted Red Peppers, Olives and Onions; and Sweet Corn and Coconut Ice Cream.
These recipes show off the versatility of corn. The roasted corn salad is a variation on "fried" corn. You simply toss in basil and veggies to turn it into a salad. The pudding is an elegant souffle that highlights the sweet notes of maize. The ice cream makes for a rich dessert on its own, but also pairs well with cakes, pies and cobblers.
Roasted Corn Salad with Fresh Basil, Roasted Red Peppers, Onions and Olives
Hands on: 15 minutes Total time: 15 minutes Serves: 6
This dish stands on its own as a great side. You may also use it to dress up a green salad. I like it on a bed of lettuce with sliced tomatoes, boiled eggs and avocados. To save time, it's fine to use store-bought roasted red peppers.
4 ears of corn, shucked and cleaned
1 tablespoon butter
1 small red onion, sliced into thin strips, divided
½ cup roasted red bell peppers, chopped, divided
¼ cup green olives, sliced, divided (optional)
2 scallions, trimmed and thinly sliced, divided into white and green parts
½ cup fresh basil leaves (or more), divided
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon sherry vinegar
Freshly ground black pepper
Using a large bowl or pan, cut the corn off cob.
Place corn in cast iron skillet that’s been heated at high temperature until smoking hot. Toss the corn kernels until they begin to blacken slightly at the edge, about five minutes. Add butter and half the red onion and saute until the onion is just tender, about 3 minutes. Stir in half the roasted red bell peppers, half the green olives (if using), the white parts of the scallions and half the basil leaves. Toss well and remove from heat.
Pour the corn and vegetables into a large mixing bowl into which you have placed the remaining red onion, roasted red bell pepper, green olives (if using) and basil. Toss well. Add olive oil and sherry vinegar. Taste for seasonings, adding more olive oil, sherry vinegar, salt and black pepper as desired. Serve warm or at room temperature.
— Adapted from a recipe by Chef Marcus Samuelsson
Hands on: 20 minutes Total time: 1 hour, 5 minutes Serves: 6
I grew up eating my mom's oven-baked grated corn and all kinds of savory creamed corn. But we never added sugar. That all changed once I discovered corn pudding. One of only two corn dishes in Edna Lewis' classic "The Taste of Country Cooking," it was altered slightly for "The Gift of Country Cooking," which Miss Lewis co-authored with Scott Peacock. After "fried" corn, this pudding is the most indispensable corn dish in the Southern repertoire.
4 ears corn, husked and cleaned
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
2 eggs beaten
1 cup milk
1 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
½ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Into a large bowl or pan, cut the corn off the cob, scraping off juices and checking for any bits of stray silk that may have fallen into cut corn.
Place corn into a medium mixing bowl. Sprinkle in the granulated sugar, flour and salt and mix well. Mix together the beaten eggs, milk and cream, and stir mixture into corn. Blend in the melted butter and nutmeg, and pour into a buttered casserole or ceramic souffle dish.
Set the dish into a tray of hot water, and bake in the preheated oven for about 45 minutes, until golden brown and just set. Test for doneness by inserting a knife blade into the center of the dish. As soon as the knife come out clean, the pudding is done. You may need to cook longer than 45 minutes, but do not overcook.
— From Edna Lewis and Scott Peacock’s “The Gift of Southern Cooking” (Knopf)
Sweet Corn and Coconut Ice Cream
Hands on: 30 minutes Total time: 2 hours, 30 minutes (includes chill time) Serves: 8 (1/2 cup servings)
Not nearly as weird as it may sound, this is a decadent dessert with a subtle undertone of corn. The grating technique means there's not a kernel in sight, and fresh white corn works especially well. For a cornier dish, shave the tip ends of the kernels off an ear of bright yellow corn, and add that in with the rest. If you can't find unsweetened coconut, you may want to reduce the granulated sugar to a half-cup.
2 ears corn (preferably white), shucked and cleaned
1 ½ cups milk
1 cup heavy whipping cream
4 egg yolks
¾ cup granulated sugar
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
½ cup shredded coconut (preferably unsweetened)
¼ cup shredded coconut, toasted in the oven (optional)
Cinnamon for sprinkling (optional)
Using a box grater, grate the corn into a large bowl. (The large holes of the grater will probably work best.) Scrape cobs to extract all the milk. Discard the cobs.
In a medium saucepan over medium heat, combine the corn, milk and heavy whipping cream. Bring to a simmer, stirring often. While the mixture heats, mix the egg yolks and granulated sugar in a small bowl until well-combined. When the cream mixture reaches a frothy simmer, slowly ladle ½ cup of it into the egg mixture, whisking constantly. Repeat — slowly pouring another ½ cup of the cream into the egg and whisking steadily. Turn heat to low, and whisk the warmed egg mixture into the saucepan. Cook gently for about 5-7 minutes, whisking constantly, until the mixture thickens.
Pour the cooked custard into a medium bowl. Stir in vanilla and shredded coconut. Cover with plastic wrap, pressing the plastic down to the surface of the custard to remove air. Chill for at least two hours, or up to a day.
Remove plastic wrap. Stir well and chill in an ice cream maker according to manufacturer's instructions. Serve immediately, topping with toasted coconut and cinnamon sprinkles if desired. If not serving immediately, transfer into an airtight plastic container, and freeze until ready to serve.
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