Friday, August 29, 2008

Mid-Summer Corn

Although in this week’s column I want to return to discuss mid-season sweet corn, I can not help but make mention of an article I saw in the New York Times this past week. The Food & Drug Administration (FDA) has approved the use of radiation to sterilize spinach and iceberg lettuce. Previously, the FDA approved the irradiation of beef, poultry, pork, wheat, potatoes and other fruits and vegetables. They have done this in the name of food safety as irradiated food has had any E. coli, salmonella or campylobacter bacteria zapped by their gamma ray machines. This is, in fact, further admission by the FDA that they can not control the food stream in this country and must resort to high tech methods to guarantee sanitary food products for consumers. As the Times article states, Patty Lovera of the consumer group Food & Water Watch, was quoted as saying “This is a total cop-out. They don’t have the resources, the authority or the political will to really protect consumers from unsafe foods.” Many, this writer included, feel that irradiating food results in decrease in nutritional value and taste, and I studiously avoid irradiated food. Note that irradiated food must be labeled as such, so “buyer beware” when shopping at the supermarket. This, of course, is another reason to keep your food dollars circulating locally by buying from area farmers, farm stands and farmers’ markets. No local farmer runs his or her vegetables though an X-ray machine before offering them to the public!

We’ve been enjoying the corn season at our house and Rosemary brings home a few ears regularly from Cedar Circle Farm in East Thetford where everything is grown organically. Sure we grill it if I’m cooking outside, we boil it or steam it if I am cooking inside, but this weekend at the Norwich Farmers’ Market, I picked up the first shell beans I’ve seen from Craig Putnam of Echo Hill Farm in Orford. I had just been thinking it was about time to make a New England favorite, succotash, so I was tickled to see those red speckled bean pods at Craig’s booth.

Succotash is one of those recipes that everyone makes differently. While it apparently originated here in New England, its name is derived from the American Narraganset Indian words misickquatash and sukquttahash, there are dozens of “authentic” methods around the country of making succotash. The three basic required ingredients are maize or fresh corn, beans, and some sort of cured pork product like bacon or salt pork. Beyond these basics, almost any other vegetable can be added, like okra in the south, where succotash is more widely eaten. Original recipes call for lima beans, but I’ve always used fresh shell beans, although in Pennsylvania green beans are commonly used. So feel free to substitute what you have on hand when concocting a plate of succotash.

Here’s how I made a skillet full the other night:


¼ lb Bacon
1 cup Fresh shell beans
4 each Ears fresh sweet corn
1 pint Yellow cherry tomatoes, halved
4 each Fresh Roma tomatoes, seeded and diced
1 each Sweet onion, diced ¼”
2 each Garlic cloves, minced
1 each Green pepper, cored and diced
1 each Jalapeno pepper, seeds removed and chopped fine
¼ cup Red wine vinegar
½ cup Fresh cream
3 tbl Fresh flat leaf parsley, minced

Cut the bacon into 2” pieces and cook over medium heat in a cast iron skillet until crisp. Remove the bacon to paper towels to drain and discard all but 1 tablespoon or so of the bacon fat. Add the diced onions and cook over medium heat about 5 minutes or more, but don’t allow to brown. Add the green pepper and jalapeno and cook 3 minutes. Add the minced garlic and cook one more minute. Add the tomatoes and vinegar and cook about 5 minutes, or until the tomatoes start to break down. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Meanwhile, shell the beans and cook in some boiling water until tender, about 12 to 15 minutes. Drain and reserve.

Husk the corn and cut the kernels off the cob. Add to the skillet with the other vegetables and cook about 5 minutes. Add the reserved beans, the bacon, crumbled, and the cream. Simmer a few minutes to combine all the flavors and then sprinkle with the parsley. Serve warm.

Feel free to substitute other vegetables if you like such as diced zucchini or yellow crooked-neck squash, pan patty squash, broccoli flowerets, or green or yellow beans. Try grilling the corn before adding or grill the zucchini or even the green beans for a smoky flavor. Experiment and have fun!

The days are getting a little cooler, particularly in the morning, so its time to think about making soup again. Corn chowder made with fresh corn is a treat you can only enjoy this time of year. Here’s a chowder I made a week ago that combines two summer treats, sweet corn and Maine lobster. Try it for a special occasion or just for fun.

Lobster and Corn Chowder
Serves 8

2 2lb Maine lobsters
1 each Celery stalk, coarsely chopped
1 each Medium carrot, coarsely chopped
2 each Sprigs of fresh, flat-leaf parsley
1 each Bay leaf
5 each Black peppercorns
½ lb Salt pork, diced
3 each Medium yellow onions, peeled and diced
3 each Garlic cloves, peeled and minced
1 ½ lb Red Bliss potatoes, cut in ½” cubes
6 each Ears of fresh sweet corn, cut off the cob (c. 4 cups)
3 cups Half-and-half, or light cream
Pinch Cayenne pepper
Freshly ground pepper, white if you have it, otherwise black
2 tbl Fresh, flat-leaf parsley, minced

Bring a large pot of water to the boil, salt it generously, and add the lobsters. Cook for 10 to 12 minutes. Remove the lobsters to a platter and strain the cooking liquid into a large bowl or another pot. You can cool the lobsters under cold water, then remove the meat from the shells, cut it into large pieces (I leave the claws whole), and reserve. Discard any tomalley and coral, or eat it, as I did. Add the shells to the cooking water along with the celery, carrots, parsley sprigs, bay leaf and peppercorns. Simmer the stock for 1 ½ hours and strain it through a fine sieve into another pot. Cook it down until you have about 6 cups of liquid left.

Try out the salt pork in a Dutch oven over medium-low heat until crisp and the fat has rendered out, 15 minutes or so. Remove the salt pork to some paper towels to drain and reserve to garnish the soup later. Add the diced onions to the fat and sauté over low heat until soft, about 10 minutes or so. Add the minced garlic and cook a couple more minutes. Add the potatoes and roll them around in the pork fat to cover. Add the stock and bring to a simmer. Cook the potatoes about 5 minutes then add the corn kernels and cook until the potatoes are tender, about 5 to 10 more minutes. Add the half-and-half, the dash of cayenne, and return to the simmer. Add the lobster meat and simmer, don’t boil, until heated through, 3 or 4 minutes. Correct the seasoning, grind on a bunch of fresh pepper, garnish with the salt pork bits and fresh parsley. Enjoy!

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