The long-awaited sweet corn season is here, and one week in, I have already polished off a few ears.
When we lived in Seattle, I longed for the ritual of corn-on-the-cob suppers of my East Coast youth. (Washington corn, typically toothier and less sweet, failed to inspire.)
Fifteen Julys ago, as a columnist for an alt-weekly in Atlanta, I waxed nostalgic about the corn-eating days of my childhood. Here’s a taste:
“My kid brother Tim liked to eat corn on the cob when he was a bald little boy. His 4-year-old blue eyes bright with excitement, he’d grab the cob that was almost bigger than his head and immediately begin attacking it, typewriter style. Left to right, his teeth would graze the kernels, and when he arrived at the end, he’d dramatically lift his head up and pause to the sound of an imaginary bell before he’d swing the lever to the left and continue ‘typing’ onto the next line.
“That’s how we all ate corn in the summertime. Boiled, on the cob, with butter and salt. Like typewriters.”
In fact, I don’t think I ate corn any other way until I wanted to be a cook. Can other Pennsylvanians relate?
The Typewriter Method is undoubtedly a transcendentally primeval way to get your fill of local corn, but it is not the only way. In fact, those kernels are pretty darn wonderful — dare I say it — off the cob. Naturally sweet though it may be, corn is extremely versatile, playing nicely with just about everything in the larder, from basil to black beans, chile peppers to curry powder, pasta to peaches, squash to salmon. It is truly hard to go wrong.
Here are some of my favorite ways to branch out beyond the cob. With the gift of a season that lasts all summer long, there is plenty of time to experiment and think outside of the typewriter box.
Make improvised corn salad
With the par-cooked kernels, now you can get creative. Here’s just one way, for starters: Place the kernels in a medium bowl and add any or all of the following: 1 small handful basil leaves, torn (or flat parsley or cilantro); 1/2 medium sweet or red onion, diced; juice of 1 lime; 2 to 3 tablespoons olive oil; 12 to 15 small tomatoes (cherry, grape, pear varieties work nicely), sliced in half; 1 1/2 teaspoons Madras curry powder (or, 1/2 teaspoon each cumin and coriander, 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon; 1/4 teaspoon cayenne); black pepper to taste. Stir and season until you’re happy. Serve with grilled fish, chicken or as part of a larger vegetable plate.
Slather with compound butter
Bring 1 stick of unsalted butter to room temperature so that it’s soft enough to be pliable. Place in a medium bowl and add any of the following: 1 small shallot bulb, minced; grated zest of 1 lime; 1/4 cup fresh cilantro or parsley, or 2 tablespoons rosemary, chopped finely; 1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika or cayenne or cumin; 1/2 teaspoon salt. With a rubber spatula, mix until everything is well blended and evenly distributed. Taste and modify as needed. Roll into a log, then wrap in plastic wrap, followed by parchment paper. Refrigerate for short-term use or freeze for up to 1 month. Slice as needed.
Coat with basil pesto
Off the cob, stir together par-cooked kernels from two ears with 2 tablespoons of pesto and a handful of cherry tomatoes. Eat as a side or build into something bigger, adding 1 cup of cooked orzo pasta.
Make Mexican street corn
Grill, then ever so lightly brush with mayo, then roll in crumbled cotija cheese or queso fresco, sprinkle with ground chile pepper of choice and finish with a squeeze of lime. Enjoy corn prepared this way on or off the cob. It’s also really good with a handful of toasted peanuts and scallions.
Fold into your next omelet
Just as the egg is ready to be set, Add 1/2 cup corn kernels, maybe some cheddar, basil or prosciutto.
Top your pizza dough
Corn is a dynamite pizza topping. Make an olive oil base with smoked mozzarella or sharp provolone, roasted peppers and/or onions. Heaven.
Make corn cob broth
Before discarding those cobs, make a batch of broth for soups, stews and rice dishes. Freeze and the delicately sweet broth will remind you of sunnier times this winter. In a large pot, combine 2 to 3 trimmed cobs with 4 to 6 cups water (just enough to cover). Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 30 minutes. Strain and use right away or cool to room temperature before freezing. The broth will keep in the freezer for up to 6 months.
Mix with summer fruit
Corn kernels play particularly well with blueberries, nectarines, blackberries, even cantaloupe. There’s hardly anything you need to do for seasoning; let the fruit talk to another and do the work for you.
Add to stuffed and roasted vegetables
When bell peppers show up at farm stands later this summer, remember to add 1 to 2 cups of kernels to your filling, which might include cooked onion and garlic, rice or quinoa; fresh herbs and maybe some ricotta or feta. This would be equally good inside a zucchini, roasted or grilled.
Stir into pancake batter
Blueberries are indeed delightful in weekend pancakes, but so are corn kernels! In fact, I love the bite when the corn meets the maple syrup.