Sweet Summer Corn

Summer’s here and so is our first taste of farm-fresh corn. Two ears arrived in our weekly delivery from Capay Valley, just enough for us to get a good taste of a garden treat we rarely eat. Why rarely? Well, we love corn, but considering the hell genetically modified (GM) corn is raising out there, it’s hard to know if you’re getting organic corn or something bio-engineered in a lab. Of course, knowing your farmer helps resolve the dilemma. But if you’re not lucky enough to buy your produce from a local farmer, you can still ask your grocer for information on the source of the food you’re buying to feed your family.

Last April, we visited Capay farms during their annual strawberry-picking event. While we didn’t get to talk with Thaddeus or any of the other farming Barnes brothers one-to-one, the guided tour and Thaddeus’ willingness to answer visitors’ questions put our minds at ease with respect to the question of “where” our vegetables come from and “how” they’re grown. There’s nothing like walking the rows of an asparagus or lettuce field to be reminded that food, all food, ultimately comes from sun and soil and water. Our farm tour brought all of this into focus and inspired us to work harder at understanding how our food comes to us.

Corn is best young and fresh and these ears needed to be eaten quickly. Neither of us is particularly fond of corn on the cob unless it’s picked and eaten at its most perfect sweet ripe tenderness. Corn disappoints once the ears mature past their first ripe moments on the stock. Sadly, classic varieties don’t store well for very long and must be eaten as soon as they’re picked. We needed to figure out how to put these ears to work with other summer veggies and this delicious Bittman-inspired corn and shrimp chowder seemed the perfect choice!

Shrimp and Corn Chowder

4 slices bacon
6 patty pan, or long necked summer squash,  (roughly diced)
1 large onion (diced)
4 gypsy or red peppers (chopped)
6 medium red potatoes (roughly diced)
8 ounces sliced mushrooms
1 stalks minced celery
2 carrots, minced
2 ears of corn
2 cups whole milk
1 Tbs. Fresh thyme or 1/2 tsp. dried
Fresh basil
4 cups vegetable stock

Slowly cook the bacon over medium to low heat until all the fat is rendered and the bacon strips are crispy, about 8 to 10 minutes, in a large Dutch oven or stockpot. Remove the bacon and set it aside for use later on.

Add onions, peppers, carrots and celery to sauté in the bacon fat. The moisture from the vegetables releases allowing you to scrape up the nice brown bacon fond from the bottom of the pot. The first round of vegetables should cook just until the onions are translucent and the celery, carrots and peppers have softened, approximately 5 minutes.
Into the pot go the potatoes, squash and mushrooms. These cook until slightly softened.

Now add the thyme.

Next comes the chicken stock and milk. Bring the pot back up to a simmer and cook the vegetables in the liquid for approximately 10 minutes or until the potatoes are cooked through.

Finally, toss in the shrimp, corn and crumbled bacon. Remember that both shrimp and corn cook quickly. Just a couple of minutes in that hot pot will do the trick. Add basil, ladle the soup into warm bowls and serve.

Our pepper grinder is a permanent fixture on our dining table and, when soup’s for dinner, the Tabasco joins it. This soup is particular good with a sprinkle of cracked black pepper and a dash of hot sauce. Enjoy!