Although we try to ignore it, this time of year the pall of the season to come hangs heavy. With the kids returning to school, scheduling the pool closing, it is easy to slide into a state of melancholy and not live in the moment. So the theme for today is “Carpe Diem.” Let’s embrace the remainder of summer and celebrate all it gives because the wait for next year’s harvest will soon be a deep yearning. With this in mind I look to my garden and see tomatoes, peppers, onions and herbs all waiting to be plucked and made into something sumptuous. We must also take advantage of the farmers market offering of sweet corn as that window of opportunity will soon be closed. Vegetables gathered, I heated up the grill. You may have noticed that the grill is not just for meat these days. The chefs are charring everything from melons, stone fruit, pineapple, citrus and a wide variety of vegetables. I decided to follow that trend and develop a smoky creation, “Charred Corn Chowder.” At the height of the season vegetables are at their peak of sweetness and flavor and the charring enhances the natural sugars and adds that smokiness I associate with summer eating. Don’t favor the grill? You can easily skip this step and use the vegetables as they are, still good, but you will have to call it, “Simply Corn Chowder.”
That said, I shucked 5 ears of corn, skewered some sweet sun-gold tomatoes, halved two limes, and lined up two plump jalapenos. I was ready for the fire. The corn takes the longest, so it goes on first. It, as well as the other ingredients remained naked with no oil or seasoning. When the corn was charred on three sides and just starting on the fourth, I put on the peppers and tomatoes. Word of caution, the tomatoes are delicate so watch them and pluck them off as soon as they begin to soften. The ones I used are a cherry variety so hence, the skewering, but you can use whatever you have. If they are larger you can skip the skewer but still be careful not to overcook as they will become mush. One more thing before we get to the recipe. I chose not to put the onion and garlic on the grill as I thought keeping them raw they would retain their natural “bite” serving as a good contrast to the sweetness.
Here’s how it goes down.
CHARRED CORN CHOWDER Serves 6
Recipe by Jeanne Raffetto Tentis
This recipe was developed to take advantage of seasonal summer vegetables, especially the sweet corn and tomatoes that are here for such a short visit. It can be strictly vegetarian or serves very well as a base for seafood. I have made versions of this with shrimp, salmon and crawfish. If you are feeling fancy, try it with lobster.
2 jalapeno peppers
5 ears sweet corn
2c Sun gold (or other sweet variety) tomatoes
Two limes cut in half crosswise
1 quart stock, vegetable, chicken or if adding seafood, use shrimp stock or fish stock (clam broth would also do)
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 medium onion, chopped
3T unsalted butter
½ c white wine
Cayenne pepper to taste
1 bundle of herbs (several thyme sprigs, one or two tarragon sprigs and a few flat leaf parsley stems), tied together with kitchen twine
¼- ½ c cream or plain Greek yogurt
Freshly ground black pepper
- Heat the grill to high heat. Shuck the corn and place the tomatoes onto a skewer. Cut the limes in half. Grill corn until charred. Grill tomatoes until slightly charred and a little soft (be careful not to overcook). Grill the jalapeno until lightly charred. Place lime halves on grill cut side down and cook until they show grill marks.
- Stand the corn on end and remove the kernels from the cob with a sharp knife, reserve the cobs.
- Heat the stock and add the corn cobs. Allow to simmer while you prep.
- Puree the tomatoes in a small food processor or blender. Strain.
- Mince the jalapenos and garlic
- Chop the onion into a small dice.
- In a large soup pot, melt the butter and sauté onions until soft.
- Add the garlic and jalapenos and cook for a minute or two being careful not to burn. Add the corn kernels and cook for a few minutes.
- Add the white wine, cook for about 2 more minutes.
- Put the tomatoes in with the vegetables and cook until slightly reduced.
- Strain the cobs from the stock and add to pot. Season with a pinch of cayenne and herb bundle, salt and pepper. Simmer ½ hour. Puree mixture in a food processor or hand blender.** If you desire a thin broth, push through a medium mesh strainer. Otherwise keep as is and return to the pot. Add the cream and allow to heat through.
- Squeeze in the lime juice and add more if needed for balance.
- Taste and adjust seasonings.
- Serve hot, garnished with scallion greens or chives and hot sauce, if desired.
Last week, several readers commented about not liking jalapeno. I feel in defense of this very flavorful and not especially hot chili, I need to say a few words. The heat of the jalapeno and the cayenne can be easily controlled by the amount you put in and the removal of the chili’s seeds and membrane which is where the heat hides. They serve as a great balance to the sweetness of the other vegetables. I would urge you to try them, sparingly at first, if you are timid, but don’t eliminate them entirely. Just saying. I used two with the seeds and membrane and about 1/8 t of cayenne and the heat was there but very delicate.
Last night I added left over grilled salmon and made this a meal served with a fresh salad and crusty rolls. Whatever you decide to do with it, the secret ingredient is always love, so keep spreading it, one dish at a time. Remember to cease the day and whatever delicious ingredient the season provides, it is still summer in my mind. From my soup pot to yours, love is in the air. Jeanne