Sunday, September 2, 2007

August Corn: Phase II, Corn Stock

Long in the habit of making stocks with the odd carcass or limp vegetable, it was a short step from regarding a pile of corn cobs, shorn of their golden kernels in the interests of corn fritters but still fresh and moist, to tossing them into a stock pot. They were, after all, a kind of boney skeleton, and their network of cells contained a milky marrow of its own. In the waste not, want not spirit in which I do everything in the kitchen, spurred by visions of my grandmother refrigerating a few tablespoons of leftover spinach, I thought, why not?

Corn stock, it turns out, is so good and so useful that it is its own excuse—as if one were needed—for eating corn off the cob. Over the 15 or so years that I’ve been making it, I’ve found that it makes wonderful soups, including very good versions of tortellini in brodo and tortilla soup in addition to the more obvious corn chowder. It adds intense flavor to polenta, and makes a nice substitute for shrimp stock in shrimp Creole. Anywhere you would use chicken stock, or even water, consider whether corn stock would serve as well or better.

Corn stock is a great inventory item for the freezer, and during the ‘tween months, corn risotto with new asparagus is a lovely harbinger of summer. Now, as summer wanes and cool evenings begin, risotto with summer vegetables, including the corn cut off the cob to make the stock, makes another fine transitional, but still light, meal.

To make corn stock: Cover a dozen corn cobs with 10 cups of water. Add half of a large onion, unpeeled and cut into two pieces, and nothing more. Resist the temptation to throw in carrots, or celery, or herbs and spices: you want only the essence of corn. Bring to a boil and reduce the heat, leaving the lid ajar, to medium-low, or enough to keep a steady, slow boil going. Cook for about an hour, or until it has a sweet, pure taste of corn. Do not salt. If you are going to use it within two days, refrigerate it; otherwise, freeze the stock in pint or quart containers. Makes about 6 cups.

Golden Risotto

End of summer brings lots of yellow: golden zucchini, yellow peppers, yellow tomatoes, and corn itself. Combine them all, touched with a little saffron, to make this sunny, refined risotto. Use all butter as indicated, and don’t over-season. This should have a full but delicate flavor. Serves 6.

3 T unsalted butter
2 T minced shallot
1 cup sweet yellow pepper (about 1 medium)
1 ½ cups sweet corn off the cob, preferably yellow or bicolor (about 3 ears)
1 cup golden zucchini (about 1 medium)
½ tea salt
1/8 tea white pepper

3 T unsalted butter
¼ cup finely minced sweet onion
2 cups Arborio or Carnaroli rice
¼ cup dry white (non-oaky) wine
5-6 cups corn stock
¼ tea Spanish saffron, preferably coupe grade
¼ tea salt
¾ cup freshly grated Italian parmesan

A little chopped flat-leaf parsley (optional)
A little chopped yellow tomato (optional)
Additional grated parmesan

Prepare and cook the vegetables: Trim the pepper, remove the seeds and veins, cut into ¼” strips, then cut cross-wise into ¼ inch dice. If you have not reserved some corn when making stock, cut the kernels off of three ears. Trim the ends from the zucchini and cut it in half lengthwise. Scoop out the seeds with a spoon, then, cut side down, cut the zucchini into ¼” strips and cut cross-wise into ¼” dice. In a small frying pan, melt the butter over medium-high heat and add the shallots, letting them foam up, and sauté for a few minutes. Reduce the heat to medium. In the order listed, add the vegetables one by one, cooking about 2 minutes after each addition, being careful not to brown them. Stir in the salt and pepper, and set aside.

Make the risotto: In a saucepan, heat the stock until steam rises; keep it just warm, without a ripple. In a 3- or 4- quart pan, preferably with sloped sides, melt the butter over medium heat and sauté the onion until transparent. Reduce the heat to medium-low, and add the rice and toss it around in the butter to coat well, 2 or 3 minutes. Add the white wine and cook until it is absorbed/evaporates. Add a ladle-full of stock and cook until absorbed; the stock and rice should simmer gently. Repeat, adding a ladle of stock at a time, until the rice is nearly cooked, about 20 minutes. Crush the saffron between your fingers and stir it into the rice, together with the ¼ tea of salt. Add a little more stock and cook until the rice is tender, loose, and creamy, about 25 minutes total. In the last minute or so of cooking, stir in about ¾ of the reserved vegetable mixture and the parmesan. Turn out into a bowl, garnish with the remaining cooked vegetables, the tomato and parsley if using, and additional parm. Serve immediately.

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