Thursday, August 12, 2010

Summer Corn Saute

When corn is in high season, like now, I love to eat it right off the cob, lightly steamed, no butter or anything on it. So when I started playing around with sauteing corn in a pan, I was surprised how much I loved the flavor. I tried a few ingredients that seemed complementary. Some I felt overwhelmed the sweet corn I love, while others added to and even amplified the corn flavor. One combination that came out of a visit to the farm market is corn, green onions and shiitake mushrooms. In a pinch, during the part of corn season when there are no fresh green onions, a diced up bit of red onion will stand in well. Every time we've had guests for dinner lately, I find myself making this.

The corn gets a little caramelized, and so, even sweeter. The green onion gives it a little bite, as does the Aleppo pepper which I just can't get enough of, spice wimp that I am (it's milder than crushed red pepper), and use in as many dishes as I can. The shiitake mushrooms add a subtle earthy flavor and a softer texture. I've made this as a side dish with six ears for four people, six ears for 6 people, ten ears for eight, and even stretched ten ears for 12 people! This dish is highly adaptable and expandable. If you really hate shiitakes, just leave them out. Really love lime juice, add a squeeze. Feel compelled to add extra bling, add some chopped herbs.

I like to serve this with a green salad, some sliced farm fresh tomatoes and something off the grill. I don't have a large grill so sometimes it's nice to have one dish that doesn't have to cook on the grill. I particularly like this with grilled chicken sausage (garlic and wine, for example) or flank steak. It's also terrific with a meaty fish - I've served it alongside wreckfish and salmon with good results.

To cut the kernels off the cob, I place a very small bowl upside down inside a larger bowl and rest one end of the cob on the bottom (which is now sticking up) of the small bowl. This part might actually be a tip from Rachael Ray. I use a chef's knife and run it down each side of the ear of corn and cut the kernels right off. The kernels will all fall into the bowl. This odd looking picture below is actually a small red plastic bowl inverted into a larger stainless steel bowl - this is my usual kernel stripping set-up. I did purchase an OXO kernel stripper a while back which works just fine, but I've found that I prefer my knife.

And for all my rants about corn by-products and mass production in this country, sweet summer corn is different. This corn is grown by farmers specifically for us to eat. In fact, according to the September Food and Wine, in 2009, the 254,400 acres of sweet corn planted is dwarfed by the 86,482,000 acres of field corn planted that year. Field corn, which is not so sweet, is primarily used for livestock feed and ethanol. A small percentage is also used to make corn starch and corn syrup. Ironically, Iowa only accounts for .07 % of the sweet corn grown in this country. Most of it's corn is field corn.

Sauteed Corn with Green Onions and Shiitake Mushrooms

(serves 4 - 6)

6 large ears sweet summer corn

2 - 3 tablespoons olive oil (start with two and add a third if pan seems dry during cooking)

small bunch green onions, thinly sliced (about 3/4 cup)

3/4 cup diced shiitake mushroom caps

1/4 - 1/2 teaspoon Aleppo pepper

1/4 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste

1. Husk the corn and cut the kernels off the corn cobs into a bowl.

2. Heat a skillet over medium high heat and add the olive oil.

3. Add the corn and stir occasionally as the corn gets a little bit browned, about 10 minutes. Add the scallions and mushrooms and mix gently, but well. Add the Aleppo pepper and salt. Continue to cook and stir occasionally for another ten minutes or so. Taste for salt and Aleppo pepper.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Blackout Ragu

When your power goes out for close to three days, as happened to us last week, throwing away a lot of food is inevitable. After tossing any contents of the refrigerator that I couldn't get onto ice, I was reluctant to pillage my freezer quite so soon. Our local news radio said that a full freezer can remain frozen for 48 hours so I left mine closed for the first two days having faith that our power would return within this window. After the 48 hour mark came and went with no sign of light(pun completely intended), I opened the freezer door and started sorting. By hour 50 or so, when I bravely opened the freezer, all the frozen fruit and vegetables and some of the meats had already gotten mushy. No one should ever have to see what the bananas I'd saved for smoothies looked like.

According to our local news station (also the source of the 48 hour rule which was only moderately accurate), meat that is still mostly hard frozen can be refrozen. Luckily, a friend had room in her freezer for the meats that had not thawed. However, the only way to salvage the foods that had already begun thawing was to cook them. If you happen to have 6 - 1 pound packages of grass fed ground beef bought directly from the farmer, one option is ragu.

I usually think of ragu as a cool weather dish, leaving a big pot to simmer for hours in late fall. With a gas stove top that would still work during a blackout with a little help from a lighter, it became a summer dish as well. You can substitute all ground beef for the pork and veal if you prefer.


(serves a blackout potluck or at least two meals for 4 - 6, unless your teenaged son has his friends over and then who knows?)

2 pounds ground beef
1 pound ground pork
1 pound ground veal
1 tablespoon olive oil
4 ounces pancetta, diced
1 large red onion, diced
2 stalks celery, diced
2 carrots, diced
1/2 cup red wine
5 tablespoons tomato paste
salt and pepper to taste

1. In a large frying pan, crumble and brown the ground meats, breaking up large chunks with the back of a spoon. Drain the meat out of the fat and reserve the meat.

2. In a large, heavy bottomed pot or Dutch oven set over medium heat, add 1 tablespoon olive oil and the pancetta. Let the pancetta brown and render some fat.

3. Add the onion, celery and carrot to the pot with the pancetta, salt lightly and cook until vegetables soften and onions become translucent.

4. Add the drained ground meat to the vegetables and pancetta and again break up any larger chunks of meat with the spoon.

5. Add the wine to the pot and raise the heat to bring the mixture to a boil and then lower and simmer for 2 - 3 minutes.

6. Add the tomato paste and a bay leaf and cover with water by about an inch.

7. Continue to simmer for about 3 hours, adding more water if the mixture seems too dry. Taste for salt and pepper.

8. Remove the bay leaf and serve over penne or tagliatelle with parmesan cheese.