Seasonal Pantry: Sweet, local corn ripe for the cooking

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Last week I stopped by Dry Creek Peach & Produce and left not just with the last of the year’s Arctic Gem white peaches but also with tomatoes, a sweet onion, gypsy peppers, lemon cucumbers and the most delicious corn I’ve tasted in a long time. After nibbling a raw kernel, I shucked it, pulled off the silks, and devoured it all, raw.

Few things have ever tasted better. It was sweet but not too sweet, juicy, and bursting with pure corn flavor. I know this isn’t corn from the Midwest — whenever I write about good local corn, I hear from readers, friends and colleagues who grew up in corn country about how ours is a pale reflection of theirs — but it is delicious and local.

Now is the time to enjoy our local corn and there are countless ways to do so. You’ll find links to recipes from the Seasonal Pantry archives at “Eat This Now,” at pantry.blogs.pressdemocrat.com. Those links include corn cakes, shrimp and corn pie, corn custard, succotash, two versions of Mexican corn on the cob and Malaysian corn on the cob.

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Risotto is infinitely versatile and can accommodate a wide range of in-season vegetables. It is delicious on its own but also makes a beautiful bed for other foods; suggestions follow the main recipe. You’ll find Vialone Nano rice, the creamiest of the three main risotto rices, at Fircrest Market in Sebastopol.

Corn Risotto with Serving Suggestions

Serves 4

4 ears ripe corn, husks and silks removed

5-6 cups homemade chicken or vegetable stock, hot

5 tablespoons butter

1 shallot, minced

— Kosher salt

1½ cups risotto rice, preferably Vialone Nano

½ cup dry white wine

3 ounces Italian fontina, at room temperature

2 tablespoons fresh snipped chives

First, prepare the corn. Hold each ear of corn over a bowl, and rub the point of a sharp knife down the center of each row of kernels to release the juices, and then run it through the kernels fairly close to the cob to remove them. You should have about 2 cups; set aside.

Put the corn cobs into the stock, along with 1 cup of water. Simmer very gently for 15 minutes; use tongs to retrieve and discard the cobs. Keep the stock hot over a low flame.

Melt 3 tablespoons of the butter in a deep sauce pan or saucier set over medium-low heat. Add the shallot and cook until it is soft and fragrant, about 7 minutes.

Add the rice to the shallots and stir with a wooden spoon until each grain begins to turn milky white, about 2 minutes. Add the wine and simmer gently until all liquid is absorbed, about 3 to 5 minutes. Season with salt.

Begin to add stock, ½ cup at a time, stirring after each addition until the liquid is nearly completely absorbed. Continue, stirring all the while, until the rice is almost tender, about 15 minutes. Fold in the corn and any juices that have collected and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes. Add the cheese and the remaining stock and stir until the rice is fully tender, 1 to 2 minutes more. Remove from the heat.

Taste, correct for salt, season with pepper, stir in the chives and ladle into shallow soup plates. Enjoy neat or use one of the suggestions below:

Serving suggestions

Sauté about 8 ounces of mushrooms — summer chanterelles, maitakes or sliced trumpet royales — in butter and when they begin to soften, season with salt, and add about ¾ cup dry white wine. Cover, simmer until the mushrooms are fully tender, uncover and cook until the juices are nearly completely evaporated. Correct for salt, season with black pepper, and spoon on top of the risotto. Garnish with snipped chives.

Use as a bed for slow-roasted or grilled salmon. Use shredded basil in place of the chives and drizzle with basil oil just before serving.

Sear scallops in butter, 90 second per side, season with salt and pepper and serve atop the risotto. Allow 3 scallops per person.

Use the risotto as a bed for grilled zucchini. Cut the zucchini in half lengthwise, put it into a wide bowl, sprinkle with salt and ground cumin, drizzle with olive oil, and turn so that it is evenly coated.

Grill over hot coals or on a stove top grill until tender but not mushy. Set on top of the risotto and add a shower of shredded basil just before serving.

Use cilantro instead of chives and creme fraiche instead of fontina in the risotto. Sear 8 to 12 large poblanos over high heat, until their skins are blistered. Set aside to cool and then use your fingers to pull off the skins. Cut out the stem and seed core. Fill each of the poblanos with some of the risotto. Serve as a first course or as a main course, garnished with little lime wedges and cilantro sprigs.

Cook ½ cup of black lentils in salted water until they are tender. Drain thoroughly. Reserve a generous tablespoon of the lentils and stir the rest into the risotto when you add the corn. Garnish with the reserved lentils just before serving.

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Here is an old recipe from my early archives. When I first made it, I had to make the basil oil, too, as there were no acceptable commercial versions. Now, O Olive Oil & Vinegar, based in Petaluma, makes a lovely version, with whole basil leaves crushed with the olives. It bursts with true basil flavor and does not have a chemical taste, as some versions in the early 1990s did.

Corn and Salmon Chowder with Basil Oil

Serves 4

8 large ears corn

3 tablespoons butter

1 small sweet onion

— Black pepper in a mill

1 pound wild King salmon belly (see Note below), cut into 1-inch cubes

½ cup heavy cream, optional

12 medium basil leaves, very thinly sliced

— Basil olive oil

Remove the kernels from the corn. To do so, set each ear over a low bowl and use a very sharp knife to cut close to the cob. Put the cut cobs into a large pot, cover with water, bring to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer, covered, for about 30 minutes.

Remove the lid, increase the heat to medium and boil gently until there are between 5 and 6 cups of corn stock. Remove from the heat, strain, and discard the cobs.

Meanwhile, melt 2 tablespoons of the butter in a large sauté pan set over medium low heat, add the onion and sauté until limp and fragrant, about 10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Add the corn kernels and sauté the corn until heated through, about 2 minutes. Transfer to a bowl.

Return the pan to the heat, add the remaining tablespoon of butter and when it is melted, add the salmon. Season with salt and pepper and cook, tossing or gently turning, until it is just barely cooked, about 2 to 3 minutes.

To finish the soup, put the cooked corn and onions into a medium saucepan and add 4 cups of the corn stock. If you prefer a smoother soup, use an immersion blender to puree it. Add enough of the remaining corn stock to achieve a rich but soupy texture. Taste and correct the seasoning.

Fold in the salmon and stir in the cream and basil leaves.

Ladle into soup bowls and drizzle each portion with some of the basil oil. Enjoy right away.

Note: When you buy salmon fillet, it’s easy to see the fatty portion; it’s the thinner part with white stripes that slope away from the main portion of the meat.

There’s also a thin strip of fatty meat on the top portion of the fillet. If you have a sharp boning knife, it is very easy to cut this part away from the rest. If you get in the habit of doing so, your fillets will cook more evenly and you’ll have the succulent fatty portions to use in recipes such as this one.

You cannot buy only this portion so you do need to plan ahead. You can use salmon fillet if it’s more convenient, but it won’t be quite as luscious.

You can also use smoked salmon, broken into bite-sized pieces; it does not need to be sautéed before it is added to the chowder.

Michele Anna Jordan is the author of 24 books to date, including “Polenta.” Email her at michele@micheleannajordan.com

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