Tag Archives: corn

Pasta with corn & mint

3 Aug

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This was not a planned blog event. I was just throwing something together on the fly last evening, with no intention of sharing a “recipe.”

Thing is, fresh corn and mint from the garden make a really nice combination. I’m wagering that even an ill-planned post such as this might at least provide some inspiration before summer’s end.

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Basically what we have here is an ear’s worth of fresh corn (blanched and then shaved off the cobb), a handful of fresh mint, a couple garlic scapes (a clove or two will do just fine), a chopped hot pepper, and a couple anchovy filets (optional, of course). Saute for a few minutes while your pasta is cooking.

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When the pasta is al dente turn up the heat in the pan to high and add the pasta.

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Then add some of the (well-salted) pasta water, cook it off until almost (but not entirely) evaporated, and you’re all set.

My guess is that I’ll be throwing this one together a couple more times before fresh corn season is over.

Pasta with corn, tomato & cheese

17 Sep

My friend Peter is what you might call “an acquired taste.”

He is brash, opinionated, often insulting to those who cross his path. I have never met a person with less skill in editing their own words. Which is saying something considering the place I am from.

This is one of the reasons the man is my friend. I never have to wonder where Peter stands on any issue. He is, without apology, who he is. I admire and respect that.

It also doesn’t hurt that he can grow vegetables better than anybody that I know. With few exceptions, virtually every seedling that I plant in the spring has its beginning in Peter’s greenhouses in the dead of winter. On the property around these greenhouses you’ll find fruit trees of all types, as well as a large field where Peter and his wife Claudia grow potatoes, tomatoes and, of particular interest to us here, sweet corn.

A couple weeks back Peter texted saying that the corn in his field was ready to be picked.

“Come over today or tomorrow and take as much as you want,” he wrote.

Before I could answer Peter was back with the kind of snarky blather that is more his custom.

“Oh, and grab a few ears for your girlfriend Marc while you’re at it.”

See what I mean.

Now, Marc is a regular companion of mine, I’ll admit, but he certainly is not my girlfriend.

He isn’t even a girl. I checked with his wife Beth just yesterday to be sure.

Nonetheless, my mission was to score a couple dozen ears of corn and so the next day my girlfriend and I were trudging through Peter’s corn field stocking up.

Which is how this pretty swell concoction of pasta, tomato, corn and ricotta salata came to be.

We start out, as we do with so many good things, sauteeing some garlic (three or four cloves) and a little hot pepper in a good bit of olive oil.

Once the garlic has softened (but not browned) toss in your tomatoes. We’ve got around three cups’ worth of fresh garden tomatoes here.

The basil plants have been growing wild this year. I figured a handful of them wouldn’t hurt.

You can skip this step if you like. For some reason, probably because I am incapable of thinking about corn without thinking about butter, I found myself adding half a stick just for the hell of it.

You’ll need to give it a taste, of course, but after around 15 or 20 minutes of medium-to-high heat the tomatoes are likely to have turned into a respectable sauce. At which point you can add the corn (around two cups here, blanched and cut from the cob) and lower the heat to a slow simmer.

After the corn has warmed a bit (maybe a minute or two) add a half pound of ricotta salata, cut into small pieces.

Then immediately add your pasta and incorporate.

I blanched and froze a bunch of corn and will try this with canned tomatoes in the dead of winter, when Peter is in his greenhouses getting a jump on spring.

What are friends for?

29 May

Over the next couple of weeks many of these corn kernels will be planted in several undisclosed locations around the Northeast. I know this because I am personally dispersing them as we speak.

In the interest of plausibly denying the specific whereabouts of the crops I have chosen to not ask any questions.

Neither should you.

See, back in 2012, I came into possession of a handful of seeds meant to grow corn not for eating but for manufacturing polenta. (Here’s the original post, showing how to make your own polenta at home.)

Though the seed was at one time available in the United States it hasn’t been for several years now. I never was able to find out why it was banned, not definitively, though a well-informed friend and I have long suspected that The Evil Monsanto might have something to do with it. (You know, the Monsanto that controls around 80 percent of the country’s corn crop.)

This friend—let’s call him “Tony”—surprised and delighted me the other day by slipping me a couple ears just in time for this year’s planting season. I had stopped growing the polenta corn three years ago but Tony has kept it up ever since I gifted him with the seed to start his own crop.

Tony makes his living… Scratch that, nobody needs to know what he does. And he lives in… Actually, best we not reveal this information either. The point I’m trying to make is that the guy knows about growing stuff. And he’s become committed to keeping this strain of polenta corn around for as long as he is able, no matter what Big Ag does to kill off such noble efforts.

Sadly, I had somehow managed to lose sight of my responsibility in this mission.

I’m lucky to have a friend who could set me straight.

Grow your own polenta

2 Mar

Last summer, for reasons that I cannot entirely comprehend, I became gripped (gripped, I tell you!) by the idea of manufacturing my own polenta. I went so far as to track down and procure a corn seed designed specifically for this purpose, from a faraway source that I am not at liberty to disclose. (For real. The stuff has been determined to be illegal in the United States.)

Being the patient, do-things-the-right-way type, and knowing not a thing about growing corn or making polenta, I searched the mighty interweb seeking guidance but found none. And so, kernels in hand, I decided on a strategy not the least bit unfamiliar to me: I’d just wing it!

Thrilled doesn’t quite describe my reaction to the outcome. The fourteen ears of corn that I had designated for use in this experiment yielded five cups of the sweetest, best-tasting polenta that I’ve ever had. No kidding. It was terrific! I’m already planning this summer’s corn crop, and it’s going to be bigger than last year’s. Just don’t tell the Feds about it, okay.

So here’s how it went down. When the corn was ready last July I peeled back the husks to expose the ears, then tied the ears together with string and hung them from a curtain rod in the dining room so that they could dry out.

Around November I decided that I had had enough of the waiting game and so I cut the ears down and got to work.

I suppose there are tools that one could use to extricate the kernels but I was in an impatient mood and so I just used my fingers. For the most part simply rubbing the kernels with some force did the trick.

Like so.

In small batches I then started working the kernels in the Vitamix. This is not the best tool for milling polenta, as it’s powerful and can turn the kernels to powder pretty quickly if you’re not careful. But I was careful, pulsing as slowly as I could get away with.

And in the end I had this pretty nice mountain of gold.

The consistency wasn’t terribly uniform, but I’ve got time to come up with another method for this coming summer’s crop.

The most important thing was the taste. I’ve had a lot of polenta in my life, plenty of it very good quality and from all over the world. This stuff was the best. Because it tasted like sweet corn. Everybody who tried it agreed. And everybody wanted more.

Which is reason enough to seriously up production this summer.

I can’t wait.

Mister Bua’s cornbread

17 Sep

It isn’t really cornbread.

But you knew that.

It’s a crispy baguette that has been soaked in melted sweet butter. The butter was neither poured over nor spread on the bread when it was warm from the oven. It was melted by something much, much better: a just-steamed, super fresh ear of local corn.

We’re getting to the end of the growing season. The nights are growing cold here in Maine, leaves are beginning to turn. I’ll miss the fresh corn and the bread that I always eat alongside it.

I have Vito Bua to thank for this summer tradition that I hold dear. Mr. Bua was grandfather to several of my cousins. I remember him for only two things: dancing with the ladies (boy, could he dance with the ladies!) and teaching me how to eat fresh summer corn.

Mr. Bua died long ago, and we never were what you would call close. And yet, every summer when the corn comes, there he is teaching me all over again what to do.

“Here,” he says in that thick Italian accent of the immigrants of his day. “First you put your butter on your bread. Like this.”

“Now, go ahead, rub the corn up and down until it all melts.”

“Okay, son, the bread is the best part of all, you know. Don’t ever forget that.”

And I never did.

Thanks, Mr. B.

Corn soup with fennel pollen

18 Sep

Blink and you might as well move along. Because you will miss this recipe entirely, I promise you. It’s that quick.

Two hours ago I hadn’t even thought of making this soup. And though I just referred to “this recipe,” that might be a bit of a stretch. Look, I was at a local farm stand and they had some pretty decent-looking corn. Soon there won’t be any corn left around here and so I grabbed six ears.

My associate had already prepared a lovely vitello tonnato for dinner, and so I moved fast to get the corn used while it’s still fresh.

I steamed the corn until it was pretty soft, then shaved off the kernels while they were still warm.

Pulverized the corn in the Vitamix, along with a teaspoon of salt and half a teaspoon of fennel pollen, and that was the end of that. (Here’s a source for the fennel pollen if you don’t have one.)

And there you go: corn, salt, fennel pollen, that’s it.

Gotta go pick out a wine for tonight’s veal. Have a good evening.

Roasted corn polenta

6 Jun
I once knew a man named Dave. He had a PhD in food technology from MIT, held important jobs for the biggest companies on the planet, and was personally responsible for bringing several well-known food products to grocery store shelves throughout the world.
I liked Dave. And miss him now that he’s gone.
In summer we ate a lot of sweet corn together. Dave’s house was only a few miles from a very nice family farm in southern Connecticut, and whenever I would visit in sweet corn season there was never any doubt as to what we might eat.
Going to the farm with Dave was both enjoyable and, to be honest, a bit unnerving. Dave was a scientist to the core, a brilliant one at that. He made it his business to know, or at least estimate within acceptable margins before leaving his house, when the sweet corn would have been picked (twice a day at this particular farm as I recall). When we arrived at the farm Dave would always press to speak with the person who had direct knowledge of the corn’s harvesting that day. This information, though mildly interesting to me, was crucial data to the scientist that I rode with.
Dave had a rule: The time between picking and eating should not exceed two hours. Go outside this limit and the corn’s sweetness was, to Dave’s mind, compromised, as sugars turn to starch immediately after an ear of corn is snapped from its stalk.
I have never doubted this rule. Because never in my life have I enjoyed corn more than the corn I enjoyed with Dave.
This roasted corn polenta we have here? I would never have served it to Dave. We’re weeks away from sweet corn season in Maine, and so I had to rely on Florida farmers. It isn’t often that I do this, what with how Dave’s flawless corn-picking strategy has stayed with me all these years. However, I am not a patient man. I wanted me some corn. Right now.
I went the roasted-on-the-grill route because of the added depth in flavor it brings to the corn. Friends were coming over and so I grilled a dozen ears, allowed them to cool, then shaved off the kernels with a knife.
Into a food processor went about three-quarters of the kernels, along with a little less than half a pint of cream.
In a deep saute pan went a half stick of butter, the remaining kernels, salt and pepper to taste and the processed kernels. I also added some chicken stock to thin it out, as well as some milk later on. (An associate, whilst passing the stovetop on their way to an open wine bottle, tossed a pinch of fennel pollen into the  mix while I wasn’t looking. How fennel pollen came to be in this person’s fingers I cannot say.)
Not much to look at, but I couldn’t stop eating the stuff. 
Dave might have even liked it. Had I managed to summon the nerve to present it to him.