Technically, it is still summer. But after September 1st, it sure feels like it’s over. I hate that.
Why? Some folks like it cold, and some like it hot. I like the in-between, but mostly on the warm side. I am the happiest in June, when the summer spreads out before me like a cool green meadow that goes on and on. Sigh.
The upside to September: kids are back in school (sigh again, this time a sigh of relief.) Don’t get me wrong; having your kids home with unstructured time is wonderful in an old-fashioned Leave-It-To Beaver kind of way. But hallelujah when that school bell rings!
The other upside is, of course, a veritable banquet of vegetables in the market to choose from.
When I make this corn chowder, I am always reminded of the virtues of humble American cooking. Sure, Italian food has sex appeal, but when you apply its primary principle—spectacular ingredients used simply—we Americans can go toe to toe with them any day, especially in September.
With justly famous Yankee ingenuity, our New England forefathers used what they had on hand to make food for sustenance. These resourceful cooks layered ingredients like salt pork, cod, onions, potatoes and a few herbs in a pot (the word chowder is purportedly derived from chaudière, the name of a French cooking pot) with milk and water. Sustenance always came first, but look at the result: salty bacon paired with clams or cod, tamed with cream and potatoes. Now it’s getting interesting.
2 tablespoons butter or olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 stalks celery, finely diced
3 potatoes (about 1 pound), peeled and cut in 3/8-inch dice
Kernels cut from 6 ears of corn (5 to 6 cups)
6 cups chicken stock, vegetable stock or quick corn stock (recipe below)
Salt and pepper, to taste
1 red pepper, cut in half lengthwise
Snipped chives, for garnish
Cream, if you like
1. Melt the butter in a large pot over medium heat. Add the onions and celery and cook for 5 minutes or until the vegetables are tender but not browned.
2. Add the potatoes, corn kernels, stock and salt and pepper to taste. Bring to a boil and adjust the heat to a simmer. Simmer for 25 minutes or until the vegetables are tender.
3. Position an oven rack 4 inches from the broiler element and turn on the broiler. Place the pepper halves with the cut sides down on a baking sheet. Broil until the skin blackens and blisters, 3 to 5 minutes. Transfer to a bowl and cover the bowl with a plate. When the pepper halves are cool enough to handle, peel and seed them. Cut in small dice.
4. Scoop out 3 cups of the soup and puree it in a blender. Stir it back into the pot and taste for seasoning. Add more salt and pepper if you like.
5. Ladle the soup into bowls. Garnish the soup with diced red pepper, chives, and if you like, a generous spoonful of cream.
Once you have scraped away the kernels, you can use the corn cobs for a delicious stock.
Makes 6 cups
6 corn cobs (without kernels), broken in half
1/2 onion, sliced
1 stalk celery, sliced
2 to 3 sprigs parsley
1/2 teaspoon salt
1. Place the corn cobs, onion, celery, parsley and salt in a large pot. Add 8 cups water and bring to a boil over medium heat. Adjust the heat to a simmer and cook for 20 to 25 minutes. Strain.