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Summer Cooking : The Corn Chronicles

One man, who eats complicated foods and sophisticated wines, confessed that, for all the extravagant dishes he has sampled, he has always longed to taste fresh corn.

A realist asked me what I would do if the kernels didn't form properly, and for a moment I imagined myself the heroine of an O'Henry short story, sneaking out in the dead of night to paste a healthy ear of supermarket corn on the stalk, to spare Sarah the heartbreak of an inedible ear.

It won't happen. I believe in this corn. It has marked the passage of a summer--and taught us something about anticipation and patience. There is no meddling with corn. Just waiting, devotion and a clean faith. It is a very romantic food.

I have begun to clear the route from the tallest plant to the cooktop. I have promised Sarah that if the first ear is out of her reach her father will lift her to it and then--very fast--put her down so she can run. I have more than once opened the cabinet to look at the steamer pot I'm going to use.

Last week Sarah and her best friend and I were walking from the friend's house to ours when Sarah broke into a run. The other little girl yelled at her to wait, but she kept running--and for once I forgot my job as peacemaker, mediator, traffic cop--and just watched her go. She's fast. She pumps her arms; she's got a nice, straight, tough little stride. Let her go. I can see it already: She's be in the house, an ear in each fist, in nothing flat.

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The truth is, I will eat good corn right off the cob, uncooked. But in the interest of civilized living, here is the best recipe I know of for fresh corn:

STEAMED FRESH CORN

Pull off the husks (always buy ears with the husk still on, not the display corn they strip for show at the supermarket). Steam the corn for five minutes. Eat it.

 

If you make an impulse buy at the local farmers' market, this corn pudding, adapted from Joyce Goldstein's "Back to Square One," is a good, creamy, slightly spicy solution for the fresh ears you can't eat immediately.

CORN PUDDING

4 cups corn kernels, about 8 ears corn

2 tablespoons flour

2 teaspoons salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

1/2 cup milk

1 cup half-and-half or light cream

3 eggs

6 tablespoons sweet butter, melted

Toss corn kernels with flour, salt, pepper, cayenne and nutmeg in bowl. Set aside.

Mix milk and half-and-half in small saucepan and warm slightly over medium heat. Whisk in eggs. Add milk-egg mixture to corn. Add melted butter and mix well. Taste and adjust seasonings.

Pour corn mixture into buttered 2-quart baking dish. Place baking dish in larger pan. Pour hot water into larger pan about halfway up sides of baking dish. Bake at 350 degrees until pudding is pale gold and custard is almost firm, about 1 hour. Makes 6 to 8 servings.

Note: For more Mexican flavor, add 2 large poblano peppers, charred, peeled and cut into small dice to corn mixture. Spread 3/4 to 1 cup shredded Monterey Jack cheese over top.

 

I suppose you could look at it this way: Anyone who grows corn saves the time it takes to go to the market to buy it, and so has the spare 25 minutes it takes to stand over the stove and stir this risotto, adapted from a recipe from Valentino restaurant.

CORN AND RED PEPPER RISOTTO (Risotto Peperoni e Pannochie)

6 sweet red peppers

2 ears corn, cooked and cut from cob

Salt

1/4 cup butter

1 onion, chopped

1 pound Arborio rice

1 cup dry white wine

2 quarts beef stock, boiling

1/4 pound Parmigiano-Reggiano, grated

1 tablespoon anise liqueur such as Pernod

Roast or bake peppers until dark brown. Peel, seed and cut tops off. Reserve tops and finely chop remaining peppers. Set aside.

Drop corn into rapidly boiling, lightly salted water and cook briefly just until color changes. Cut kernels from cobs. Set kernels aside and discard cobs.

Heat butter over medium heat in large saute pan. Add onion and cook until translucent. Add rice and mix well, until rice looks glossy. Add white wine, bring to simmer, and add 3/4 cup broth. Cook, stirring, until broth is absorbed by rice. Repeat until rice is tender and creamy. Remove from heat. Stir in all but 1/4 cup chopped peppers, corn and half of cheese. Stir vigorously 4 to 5 minutes.

Divide risotto among 6 plates. Top each serving with reserved roasted pepper and sprinkle with some more cheese. Serve remaining cheese on side. Makes 6 servings.

Each serving contains about:

539 calories; 1,256 mg sodium; 34 mg cholesterol; 14 grams fat; 75 grams carbohydrates; 21 grams protein; o.83 gram fiber.

 

For the Los Angeles Times

August 18, 1994