Monday, August 23, 2010

DIY: Corn Chowder

Rainy days make me yearn for soup. Even rainy summer days, when it is cold but humid, bring out this want in me.

We are on vacation in Beautiful Martha's Vineyard. The island is even beautiful through inclimate weather. Hollyhocks sway in the wind, waters are choppy with boats bobbing forcefully against the current, and the wind blows forcefully but sweetly all through the island. It has been raining for 2 days straight now, and we are all a little stir crazy. The house was feeling a little chilly and damp, and we all needed an excuse to get out so off to the farmer's market we went. I had recently purchased the Morning Glory Farm Cookbook, and decided on their roasted corn chowder, using their own farm fresh ingredients.

Now this soup is not part of my repertoire. I rarely cook bacon, and when I do it is turkey bacon. Moreover, I have a low threshold for excessive chopping and this recipe is replete with knife acrobatics - you need to chop leeks, celery, potatoes, onions, red peppers, corn, parsley, and thyme. Finally, I tend to stay away from cream based soups. So why this soup?

Being on vacation means a lot of things, most of all a change in venue. For me, that includes the kitchen. I love hunting around a rental kitchen, making do with old utensils and re-purposing pots and pans. And there is something inspiring about this that makes me want to cook outside my own boundaries, to shift the scenery of my own culinary life and try new things. And so corn chowder called to me as the perfect rainy day vacation solution.

As I said, there is a lot of chopping. My son wandered in and out of the kitchen while I as cooking, his eyes widening as he watched my knife flash over the cutting board again and again. He took a piece of pepper here, a little celery there, anxious to see what captured my attention. He also eyed the corn happily. Freshly roasted from the oven, it made a nice little snack while waiting for the big show.

The bacon sizzled while the rain drizzled outside, creating a nice cadence and wonderful aroma throughout the house. You need to season the pan with bacon drippings, which provides a nice smokey base to the soup. I then added the vegetables and sauteed them for a few minutes. From there, a simple roux followed by the remaining ingredients and voila, corn chowder. And lots of it - a big mess of a pot that will easily last through several meals.

This is restaurant quality fare, to be savored with a nice hunk of bread and a fire nearby if you can swing it. We all huddled over the soup, enjoying it's hearty warmth. Recipe is below, enjoy every bite.

Roasted Corn Chowder
Serves 8 - 10

6 ears of corn, kernels off the cob
1 tbsp olive oil
Pinch of sea alt
Fresh ground pepper
8 slices of high quality smoked bacon, finely diced
4 medium yukon gold potatoes, peeled or unpeeled, diced into 1/2 inch cubes
2 medium onions, medium diced
4 stalks of celery, trimmed and medium diced
2 medium leeks, white parts only, medium diced
1 red bell pepper, seeded, cored, and medium diced
4 tbsp unsalted butter
6 tbsp all purpose flour
1/2 cup dry sherry
6 cups chicken or vegetable stock
1 cup heavy cream
1 tbsp thyme, finely chopped
1 tbsp fresh chopped parsley
Salt and pepper to taste

  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees
  2. Toss corn in olive oil, adding salt and pepper to taste. Lay in a sheet pan. Roast for 8 - 10 minutes. Set aside.
  3. In a heavy bottomed 5 - 7 quart pot, saute the bacon for 7 minutes. Drain, but leave a small amount in the pot for flavoring.
  4. Add the chopped vegetables and cook for 5 minutes, until tender. Add the butter. When melted, stir in the flour and cook for 3 minutes, stirring constantly. Add sherry and stir.
  5. Add the stock and bring to a slow boil for 15 minutes. Add the roasted corn, cream, herbs, salt and pepper. Reheat until hot bot not boiling. Serve.
For a vegetarian version, use vegetable stock, skip the bacon, and add 1 - 3 drops of liquid smoke.

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