Recipes: Hello, sweet corn

  • Corn and Salmon Kedgeree. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Blackberry Corn Cake. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS


For the Gazette
Published: 7/12/2019 12:39:55 PM
Modified: 7/12/2019 12:39:40 PM

July brings us corn. Corn rustling in the fields; corn on shaded farmstands; corn at backyard cookouts; corn to enjoy with butter, or with chili, or turned into corn chowder. In the crowded field of summer vegetables, some people rank corn as tops. Garrison Keillor wrote, “People have tried and they have tried, but sex is not better than sweet corn.”

Many may not agree, but for sure few vegetables rival corn in popularity. Then, too, corn is not just a vegetable. It’s primarily a grain, as its name attests. Corn in English is a general term covering all grains, but typically applied to the community’s staple, so when the New England colonists learned about corn from the Native Americans they called it Indian corn to distinguish it from the English staple corn, which was wheat. Soon corn took over as their staple, too — as it was for all the peoples of the Americas.

Corn was first cultivated in Mexico from a wild grass called teosinte about nine thousand years ago. Central and South Americans developed numerous ways of using it: turning into tender fillings for tamales, drying the whole kernels for stews such as posole, grinding it into meal for tortillas.

In North America, New Englanders preferred to puffier wheat breads to flat tortillas so they created cornbreads such as Boston Brown Bread that included wheat and rye flours, and johnnycakes tenderized with milk. They ate cornmeal mush at breakfast, dined on soups of hulled corn with, perhaps, meat, and popped corn for holiday fun.

What they didn’t do until the nineteenth century was eat corn as a vegetable; most varieties had hard or starchy kernels more suitable for making into meal or feeding animals. Eating it as a vegetable had to wait until tenderer hybrids were developed.

As late as 1896, Fannie Farmer advised not eating corn before August because “until native corn appears it is a most unsatisfactory vegetable.” She directed cooks to boil it for 10 to 20 minutes. Nowadays most prefer just 2-3 minutes, but she was dealing with older hybrids that lack the sweetness and delicacy of modern ones. Their names tell their story. Butter and Sugar is a local favorite, but there are also Kandy Korn, Honey and Pearl, Honey and Cream, Sugar Buns, How Sweet It Is, and many more varieties with sugary names.

Today corn is an iconic must-have at cookouts and clambakes, and our modern varieties are companionable with many other foods. They taste terrific with seafood such as scallops and lobster, and also with firm-fleshed fish such as swordfish and salmon. Cornmeal muffins and quickbreads are extra good when paired with summer fruits such as blueberries, blackberries, and peaches. Not surprisingly perhaps, corn teams well with other vegetables native to its Central and South American homelands: tomatoes, peppers, potatoes, beans, and squash.

Native Americans planted corn with beans and squash, calling them “three sisters” because they behave like sisters helping each other. The corn stalks give support for the beans to climb on. Unfortunately, corn depletes the soil of nutrients. But bean roots solve this by fixing plant-feeding nitrogen in the earth, Squash plays its part with its big rambling leaves that shade the ground and keep it moist.

The following recipe for Three Sisters Corn Bean Pie uses these three vegetable sisters with corn appearing in both its vegetable and cereal forms. The other recipes feature a corn in Kedgeree — a brunch or dish that includes rice, salmon, and eggs. There’s also a golden-topped cornbread, and a tender corn cake with juicy blackberries.

Three Sisters Corn Bean Pie

This pie uses corn in both its forms: as a grain in the cornmeal crust and as a vegetable in the filling, where its “sister” vegetables — green beans, cannellini and summer squash – also appear.

For the filling:

2 cups green beans, washed, trimmed, and cut into 1-inch pieces
Salt to taste
3 tablespoons olive or canola oil
1 medium onion, peeled and chopped
2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
9-inch stick celery, washed and chopped
3 cups peeled, seeded, and diced juicy tomatoes
1 bay leaf
1-2 cups yellow summer squash cut into ¼-inch semi-circles
2 teaspoons oregano
1 can cannellini beans
2 cups corn kernels (scraped from about 4 ears corn)
1 teaspoon sugar (optional)
Pinch cayenne (optional)

For the corn topping:

6 tablespoons butter, melted
1 cup yellow cornmeal
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon chili powder
½ teaspoon salt
1 egg
⅔ cup milk or more as needed

To make the filling, drop the green beans into a pan of boiling water, add half teaspoon of salt, return to the boil and let them simmer for 5 minutes. Drain. Chill the beans with cold water and set aside.

Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a sauté pan over medium heat and gently cook the chopped onion in it for 5 minutes. When it has softened, add the garlic and chopped celery, cook for another 2 minutes then stir in the diced tomatoes. Add the summer squash, bay leaf, oregano, and half a teaspoon of salt or to taste. Cook gently for 5 minutes without a lid until the vegetables are tender. Stir in the cannellini beans, adding a little of the liquid from the can if necessary, to make a moist mixture. Cook for a couple of minutes then stir in the corn and green beans. Taste for seasoning. Add the sugar if the mixture is too tart — it often is — and a tiny pinch of cayenne if you like. Grease a deep pie dish and pour the mixture into this. Set aside to cool while you make the topping.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. In a large bowl, mix the cornmeal, flour, sugar, baking powder, cinnamon, chili powder and salt. Make a well in the center. In a small bowl whisk the egg, milk and melted butter. Pour this wet mixture into the dry ingredients in the large bowl. Mix quickly but thoroughly. Spread this over the filling. Bake for 20 -25 minutes or until a skewer poked into the center comes out clean.

Corn & Salmon Kedgeree

Kedgeree is an Anglo-Indian dish of rice, hard-boiled eggs and lentils with fish — the latter usually smoked. Here corn replaces the lentils for a lighter flavor and color that teams with the eggs and coral-colored salmon. This is a tasty brunch or supper dish.

1 cup basmati rice
¾ pound salmon fillet
5 leafy stalks of parsley
Salt to taste
4 tablespoons butter
1-2 teaspoons curry powder
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 cardamom pods
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups corn kernels
2-3 slices smoked salmon torn into bite-size bits.
3 hard-boiled eggs
A few torn celery or cilantro leaves for garnish
Sliced cucumber or avocado for garnish (optional)

Put the basmati rice in a sieve and run cold water over it for a minute, then transfer to a bowl and cover with cold water. Swish it around then drain, and replace the water. Repeat this one or two more times until the water remains clear, then drain the rice and set aside.

Put the salmon in a shallow pan, cover with cold water, add a couple of parsley stems and about half a teaspoon of salt, and bring to simmering point over low heat. Simmer for 1 minute then turn off the heat, leaving the salmon in the liquid for 10 minutes before removing it and breaking it into chunks. Reserve the cooking liquid.

In a large saucepan over low heat, melt 2 tablespoons of butter. Stir in the onion and soften for 3-4 minutes without browning. Now stir in the curry powder and let it heat for about 30 seconds. Add another tablespoon of butter and stir in the drained rice until all the grains are coated with the butter mixture. Measure the reserved salmon broth and if necessary make it up to 2 cups with cold water. Add this to the rice along with the cardamom pods, the bay leaf and half a teaspoon of salt. Increase the heat and cook briskly without stirring until the surface of the rice is pitted with steam holes. Gently fold in the corn kernels, and the pieces of salmon Put the lid on the pan, turn off the heat but leave the pan standing on the warm burner for another 10 minutes or so until the rice is tender.

While the rice is finishing, chop two of the eggs and quarter or slice the other. Also chop the rest of the parsley and heat a serving platter. When the rice is ready, gently fork the smoked salmon bits into it along with the remaining tablespoon of butter and the half the chopped parsley. Arrange on the heated platter and with the remaining egg, parsley, and the celery or cilantro leaves arranged decoratively on top. If using cucumber or avocado slices, add the too. Serve with chutney or other relishes.

Corn & Tuna Salad

A mixture of corn and tuna in mayonnaise is a popular British sandwich filling. Here is served with salad greens.

2 cans tuna in oil
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
2-3 tablespoons mayonnaise
1 juicy lemon
2 cups corn kernels
Salt to taste
2 medium-large ripe but firm tomatoes
2-3 torn basil leaves
2 cups (or more to taste) washed baby salad leaves
Olive oil

Drain the tuna and put into a bowl. Mix in the parsley, a tablespoon of mayonnaise, and squeeze of lemon juice. Reserve one-third cup of corn kernels, but add the rest to the tuna mixture along with enough additional mayonnaise to make a scoopable cohesive mass. Taste and add salt if needed, also more lemon juice or mayonnaise as you see fit. Set aside.

Thinly slice the tomatoes and sprinkle the torn basil leaves and a little on them.

Drizzle the olive oil on the salad leaves, season lightly with salt, and give them a squeeze of lemon juice. Toss, then layer them on a platter. Mound the corn and tuna salad in the center scattering the remaining corn kernels on top. Surround the salad with the tomato slices. Drizzle a little oil on them if you like.

Golden-Topped Cornbread

The golden top of this slightly sweet cornbread comes from butter. The recipe makes a fairly thin bread that’s perfect with soups or chili or barbecued food. Leftovers are good reheated and topped with poached eggs or maple syrup for breakfast.

1 stick unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup stone-ground yellow cornmeal
¾ cup all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 egg, lightly beaten
5½ or 6-ounce cup vanilla yogurt
About 1 cup milk

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Use 5 tablespoons of the butter to thickly grease a 9-inch round cast-iron frying pan or casserole. Put it in the oven. Melt the remaining butter and set aside while you mix the dry ingredients

In a bowl or a food processor thoroughly mix the flour, cornmeal, brown sugar, baking powder, salt and nutmeg. Mix the melted butter with the beaten egg, yogurt and half a cup of milk. Add this to the dry ingredients and stir or process quickly just until blended. You need a soft spreadable batter so add a little more milk if necessary. Remove the buttered pan from the oven. The butter should be a little bubbly and brown. Sprinkle the granulated sugar on top, then spread the batter on top of this and return to the center of the oven. Bake for 20 minutes. Test for doneness by poking a skewer or toothpick in the middle. The bread is ready when it comes out clean.

Blackberry Corn Cake

This tender yellow cake splotched with blackberries is perfect summer-evening dessert. Good at breakfast too.

1 stick butter at room temperature
1 cup sugar
Grated zest of one lemon
1 teaspoon almond extract (optional)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 eggs at room temperature
1 cup all-purpose flour
⅔ cup vanilla-flavored or plain Greek yogurt
¾ cup fine-ground yellow cornmeal
1½ teaspoons baking powder
6 ounces (about 1 generous cup) blackberries plus more serving if liked
1-2 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour a 9 by 5-inch loaf pan or line with a parchment liner.

In a large bowl (which could be the bowl of an electric mixer), beat the flour and sugar with the lemon zest until pale and fluffy. Mix in the almond and vanilla extracts. Add an egg plus a tablespoon of flour. Repeat this step twice until all the eggs are used. Mix in the yogurt. In a separate bowl stir together the remaining all-purpose flour with the cornmeal and the baking powder. Dump this into the main butter-egg mixture and blend it in thoroughly. Finally, gently stir in the blackberries. Spoon the mixture into the prepared pan and bake in the center of the oven for 45-50 minutes or until a skewer poked in the center comes out clean.

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