Corn Potato Leek Chowder

Apologies in advance to anyone who happens to visit our house while a pot of chowder is on the stove. You are inevitably going to be tortured treated with a word for word rendition from the Chowda v. Chou-dair scene from The Simpsons. Hey– when you go through college watching four episodes of The Simpsons every day, it can’t be helped.

Sometimes we sicken ourselves with the constant, giddy re-enactments, but when the CSA delivers fresh corn, leeks, and potatoes, well, chowder immediately comes to mind as the best way to use all those ingredients. It’s well worth the risk of being ear poisoned with “Chou-dair? Chowda!” So I set out to make a corn chowder, but rather than make the overly sweet, thick and creamy kind that’s more akin to a bowl of creamed corn, I wanted to try making a lighter, spicier version.

I started by crisping pieces of bacon in the bottom of a soup pot. After removing the bacon, I sautéed corn, diced Anaheim peppers, chopped leeks, minced garlic, and fresh from the cob, yellow corn kernels in the rendered fat. After the vegetables sweated a bit, I tossed in a couple of diced russet potatoes and poured in homemade chicken stock. The starches from the corn and the potatoes were all the thickeners I needed for this soup– no cream necessary. After a quick puree with my immersion blender, this soup was then set into bowls and garnished with the crispy bacon and a sprinkle of paprika. Brightly colored, slightly spicy with hints of sweetness, and just a little bit of smoky flavor from the bacon, this was a warm and comforting chowda/chou-dair, but not at all heavy in texture.

Notes: Since fresh corn on the cob isn’t likely to be so tasty during these winter months, you can try substituting frozen corn– probably about 2-2.5 cups worth. If you really prefer to use corn kernels, try adding a couple teaspoons of sugar to liven up the natural sugars in the corn and restore it to summertime sweetness. (See the December issue of Cooks Illustrated for that tip.)

  • 3 ears of corn, husked and kernels removed from cob
  • 4 pieces thick cut bacon, diced
  • 2 teaspoons olive oil
  • 2 medium leeks, trimmed and dark green sides discarded
  • 2 Anaheim peppers (or alternatively 2 jalapenos), diced (and seeded if you’re a wuss)
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced (about 1.5 teaspoons)
  • 2 small russet potatoes, diced
  • 3 sprigs fresh thyme (or about 1.5 teaspoons dried thyme)
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 6-8 cups chicken stock
  • salt and pepper
  • paprika

Heat 2 teaspoons of olive oil in the bottom of a large soup pot over medium heat. Add the bacon and cook until crisp. Remove bacon with a slotted spoon to a paper towel lined plate to drain. Pour off all but 2 tablespoons of the bacon fat and reduce heat to medium low.

While bacon cooks, take the light green to white ends of the leeks and split in half lengthwise. Chop crosswise into 1/8 inch thick half-moon slices. Add the leeks to a large bowl of water and swirl around to dislodge dirt. Remove the leeks with a strainer and discard the water.

Add the leeks, peppers, and garlic to the bacon fat and saute for 5-6 minutes or until the vegetables have softened slightly. Add the corn and continue to cook, raising the heat back to medium, for another 6-7 minutes, being careful to not let the vegetables brown. Add the diced potatoes, thyme, bay leaf and 6 cups of chicken stock. Bring to a boil then reduce the heat to medium low, keeping the soup at a simmer for 25-30 minutes. Remove the thyme stems and the bay leaf then puree the soup with an immersion blender (or in no more than 2 cup batches at a time in a regular blender, holding down the lid with a kitchen towel.) Add more chicken stock to thin out the soup to a consistency of your liking. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

To serve, ladle soup into bowls and sprinkle with reserved bacon and a sprinkle of paprika.

CSA Count: 4

Corn, Anaheim peppers, russet potatoes, leeks

Garden Count: 2

Thyme, bay leaf

 

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Forever Summer Gnocchi

When asked what my favorite season is, I always feel a little conflicted: here in Seattle, it’s summer, but anywhere else in the world, it’s autumn. I love the warmth of fall colors, the more temperate climate, and the start of sweater season, but here in Seattle, fall depresses me for the most part. This is the time of year from which we get our bad reputation for non-stop rain. As I’m writing this, it’s a cold, grey, and pouring first day of November, and if this month is anything like the last few years, I can expect the weather to stay like this every day for at least the next three weeks.

But I can’t totally complain about a Pacific Northwest fall. In one very important way, our autumn is better than anywhere else– the mad rush of late summer produce that keeps showing up at markets throughout September and even into October. It’s not uncommon to see produce stands stocked high with ears of corn and tomatoes (well, ok, not this year as this was a rotten summer for tomatoes here) alongside piles of apples and winter squash. It’s my foodie dream and nightmare as I am so excited to have such a variety of produce to play with but also a little overwhelmed by so many options.

For me, this gnocchi represents that transition from summer to fall. I was inspired after John and I had dinner at one of our favorite local ale houses. John ordered their special: a plate of tender chicken and gnocchi enveloped in a rich brown butter sauce. That’s fall comfort food at its ideal, if you ask me. Back at home, however, I had a refrigerator full of summery produce from the CSA: yellow and green squash, red ripe tomatoes, crisp Roma beans, and sweet corn. I wanted to recreate that ale house gnocchi but with the bright, fresh, and crunchy flavors of my summer vegetables. In the end, it was perfect: I had shallow bowls of pillowy gnocchi, specked with bright colors, sweet vegetables, and a light sauce made from browned butter and chicken stock. It’s the perfect reminder of summer to combat the rainy days of November.

Two 9 oz packages of prepared gnocchi, cooked according to package directions

  • 1 store-bought rotisserie chicken
  • 1/2 lb Roma beans, cut into 1/2 inch wide squares
  • 3 ears of corn, kernels removed from cob
  • 1 tablespoon canola oil
  • 1/2 large red onion, cut in half and sliced thinly
  • 2 medium garlic cloves, minced (about 1 teaspoon)
  • 4 baby yellow squash
  • 1 medium green squash
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh savory or thyme
  • 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
  • 1 cup chicken stock
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano, plus more for garnishing at the table
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh chives
  • 2 medium tomatoes, seeded and chopped
  • salt and pepper

Shred the chicken breasts from the rotisserie chicken and remove the skin. Reserve the rest of the chicken meat for another purpose.

Bring a medium pot full of water to a boil. Add about 1 tablespoon of salt then add the corn and Roma beans. Boil for about 5 minutes then drain and run cold water on top of the vegetables to cool them down and slow the cooking. Meanwhile, heat the canola oil in a large skillet over a medium flame. Saute the onion and garlic until the onion is softened, about 5-7 minutes. Add the squash and cook until tender, about 10-12 minutes. Mix in the corn, Roma beans, and savory then season with salt and pepper to taste.

While the vegetables cook, cook the gnocchi according to package directions. Add the butter to a medium skillet and heat over a medium flame. The butter will melt and foam up. Once the foam dissipates, stir the butter frequently and keep a close eye on it, removing it from the heat as soon as the butter turns a nutty brown color and is fragrant. Add the drained gnocchi to the vegetable mix. Over medium heat, add the butter, chicken stock and grated cheese, tossing gently to coat. Cook over a medium flame until the sauce thickens slightly and is absorbed into the gnocchi. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper to taste. Plate the gnocchi topped with chopped chives and tomatoes with additional cheese to pass at the table.

CSA Count: 7

Roma beans, corn, red onion, baby yellow squash, green squash, chives, tomatoes

Garden Count: 1

Savory

Roasted Corn & Tomatillo Soup

It was another week, another 2 pounds of tomatillos from the CSA. For once, I felt inspired about the tomatillos since instead of making my usual batch of enchiladas, I thought I’d branch out into making tostadas. I told John about my idea, excited about the possibility of making refried black beans and how delicious they would be smeared on a crispy, yellow corn tortilla then topped with juicy, grilled chicken and my salsa. So imagine my surprise when John turned his nose up like he’d stepped in one of our dog’s “gifts” in the backyard. Apparently he was feeling my usual bout of green salsa ennui.

I was a little miffed, and handed over responsibility for dealing with the tomatillos to him, and for two days, I stuck to it, reminding him that I’d washed my hands of those green monsters. Then t.v. saved John. A travel show’s feature of a restaurant’s recipe for roasted corn soup gave me sudden inspiration. Instead of salsa, I’d roast corn kernels and carrots in the oven then combine them with tomatillos and pasilla peppers that were charred under the broiler. I’d let these flavors meld together in a bath of chicken broth then spice things up with cumin, coriander, and oregano. I imagined that roasting the carrots and corn would concentrate their sugars, yielding sweetness to counterbalance the smoky tomatillos and peppers.

So I put plan into action. I placed the tomatillos and the split peppers on my broiler pan and put them under the broiler. While they charred, I shucked the corn and sawed the kernels from the ears adding them to diced up orange and yellow carrots. I spread those out on a foil lined baking sheet, drizzled them with canola oil and sprinkled it all with salt and pepper. I then got ready to put the sheet in the oven and… nothing. Apparently that last broil was the final death knell for our little range. The damn oven refused to turn on anymore. I screamed my annoyance to no one in particular, and frantically kept pushing the oven heat buttons hoping that it would magically work but to no avail. My saving grace– the stove top still worked. Once calm, I gamely pulled out my largest cast iron skillet, added the corn and carrots, and used the dry heat of the pan to lightly caramelize them.

In the end, you would never have guessed that cooking this soup had been such a frustrating process. This soup blended up thickly and was beyond delicious. The peppers added a subtle heat as well as the smoky flavor I’d anticipated, while the tomatillos gave a slightly sour taste that balanced the sweetness of the corn and carrots, their flavors concentrated so that it was like tasting summer. John made up for his earlier transgression against my rule over the kitchen by adding hot sauce to the soup, giving it the acid that it had lacked, when I was too tired from the earlier oven ordeal to figure out how to make the soup taste better. Served with slices of creamy, buttery and cold avocado along with a sprinkle of cilantro provided that perfect contrast in temperatures as well as a refreshing bite to cut through the creamy soup. Try this out if you’re looking for a southwestern twist to your regular corn chowder.

Note: If you don’t have a cast iron skillet but do have a working oven, my original plan was to bake the corn and carrots in a 400 degree F oven for 20-35 minutes, or until the corn kernels have some brown specks. Be sure to mix the corn and carrots occasionally while roasting. And on a personal note– for any friends who are reading this post, no worries. This was the old range, not the shiny new replacement. 🙂

  • 3 medium pasilla peppers
  • 1 pound tomatillos, peeled and rinsed
  • canola oil
  • salt and pepper
  • 4 ears of corn, kernels removed from husks
  • 2 medium orange carrots, diced
  • 2 medium yellow carrots, diced
  • 1 medium sweet onion, chopped
  • 3 medium cloves of garlic, minced (yields about 1.5 teaspoons)
  • 1 jalapeno, minced (and seeded if you’re a wuss)
  • 2 medium stalks of celery, chopped
  • 1/4 cup masa harina
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream
  • 1 tablespoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 2 teaspoons dried oregano
  • hot sauce, to taste
  • fresh lime juice, to taste
  • fresh cilantro and avocado slices for garnish

Heat broiler pan about 5 inches below the broiler heating element. While the pan heats, place the tomatillos in a bowl and drizzle with a 1/2 tablespoon of canola oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Toss to coat each tomatillo. Cut the top and bottom tips off of the pasilla peppers, remove the seeds, then cut a slit down the pepper from top to bottom so that you can flatten it out into one large strip. Brush the skin side of each pepper “strip” with canola oil. Place tomatillos and the peppers (skin side up) on the hot broiler pan and broil until tops are charred, about 10-12 minutes. Place peppers in a bowl and cover tightly with plastic wrap.

While peppers and tomatillos roast, heat a large cast iron skillet over medium high heat (or see note if you wish to try using your oven to use it for roasting the carrots and corn.) Mix together the corn and carrot pieces with about 1/2 tablespoon of canola oil and a little salt and pepper. Add this mixture to the skillet and cook until corn is speckled with brown spots, about 18-20 minutes, stirring occasionally.

In a large soup pot, heat 1 tablespoon of canola oil over medium heat. Add the onion, celery, jalapeno, and garlic and saute until vegetables have softened, about 10 minutes. Sprinkle with the 1/4 cup of masa harina and stir together. Let this cook for about 1 minute before adding the chicken stock. Add the tomatillos, corn, and carrots. Peel the charred skin off the cooled peppers then dice them and add this to the pot as well. Stir in the cumin, coriander, and oregano then bring the pot to a boil and reduce to a simmer. Simmer for 20-30 minutes, before adding the 1/4 cup of cream. Using an immersion blender, puree until smooth (or alternatively, add no more than 2 cups of the soup mixture to a blender at a time, pureeing while holding the lid down firmly with a towel.) Take a taste and adjust the flavors with lime juice, hot sauce, and more salt and pepper to taste. Serve in bowls with a couple of slices of avocado and a sprinkle of cilantro.

CSA Count: 6

Tomatillos, orange carrots, yellow carrots, sweet onion, jalapeno, cilantro

Warm Corn Tarragon Salad

This will be another one of those posts that show how woefully behind I am in blogging, but on the bright side, it’s mid-winter and probably cold or raining (if you’re out here on the West Coast) so it’s a nice break to revisit early fall with its summery climes. Well, at least it is for me. 🙂

If I can give myself a hearty pat on the back, I think this is one of those dishes that perfectly captures summer in one bite. It’s in part due to the ingredients: fresh corn off the cob and sweet, juicy sungold cherry tomatoes which are at the peak of season. It’s in part due to the colors: sunny yellow, bright orange, and lightly purple shalot with flecks of herbal green mirror the gorgeous hues of a dinner time sunset. But it’s mostly the flavors and textures: sweet, slightly milky corn with heat from a jalapeño; additional sweetness with an undercurrent of acid from the juicy tomatoes; salty crunch from the bacon; and crisp, bright licorice notes from the tarragon which tie everything together into a refreshing salad. I’m starting to think that even the idea of this dish has magical powers as the sun has managed to burst through the grey rain clouds as I’ve written this. Perhaps a sign that you should give this a try?

  • 3 ears of yellow corn
  • 3 strips thick cut, uncured bacon
  • 1 medium shalot, thinly sliced
  • 1 small clove of garlic, minced
  • 1 jalapeño, minced
  • 1/2 pint sungold cherry tomatoes, quartered
  • 2 tbsp fresh tarragon
  • olive oil
  • salt and pepper

In a medium skillet, cook the bacon until crisp. Cool on paper towel lined plate then crumble the bacon into pieces.

While the bacon cooks, strip the kernels off the ears of corn. (Easy way is to place a small bowl, bottom side up inside a large bowl then standing the ear upright on the small bowl and running the knife along the ear from top to bottom so that the large bowl catches the kernels as they fall away. Be sure to run the non-sharp edge of the blade along the empty husk to exude some of the milky corn liquid too.)

In a large skillet, heat about 2 tsp olive oil over medium heat and gently cook the shalot, garlic and jalapeño. You’re looking to sweat the vegetables to bring out some sweetness but don’t brown them so watch your heat and stir often. When those vegetables have softened, about 5 minutes, add the corn and tomatoes so that the corn and tomato heat through. You’ll know when the tomatoes have softened a little and are juicy. Season lightly with salt and pepper then toss in the bacon crumbles and about 1.5 tbsp of tarragon. Plate and sprinkle the top with the rest of the tarragon as garnish.

CSA Count: 5

Corn, shalot, garlic, jalapeño, sungold tomatoes