This time of year, farmers' markets are simply overflowing with sweet corn. There are few things on earth as delicious as a boiled ear of corn slathered with butter and sprinkled with salt, yet when it is so bountiful -- like now -- you need other ways to prepare it. I like to use fresh corn in a simple chowder that's overflowing with flavor and just a hint of creaminess.
Most chowders rely on a base of heavy cream. There's nothing wrong with that, unless you're among the many trying to cut fat and calories from your diet. Luckily, there are a couple of easy ways to trim the fat from chowder without compromising taste or texture.
For a rich and creamy texture, use whole milk thickened with a roux (a combination of flour and butter), instead of the traditional heavy cream. To get the most flavor from the corn, run the back side of a knife along the cob after you remove the kernels; this removes any remaining corn bits in the form of "milk." Add this right to the pot, along with the cobs, for a boost of corn flavor.
To balance out the meal, use other farmers' market standouts: an assortment of veggies for a classic grilled vegetable salad, which, when properly combined, presents a striking and delicious side dish.
Another one of my summer standbys is quiche, filled with quickly sautéed asparagus and Gruyère cheese. I like to cheat and use a frozen pie crust, but feel free to make your own.
To top off the meal, dessert is a blend of sweet berries with a touch of sugar, lightly whipped cream and a buttery shortcake for a dish that's easy to make and sure to impress.
Light Corn Chowder
6 cups vegetable stock
5 medium ears corn, kernels removed and cobs reserved (about 4 cups corn)
11/2 lbs. red bliss potatoes, diced (about 4 cups)
2 Tbsps. unsalted butter, cut into 2 pieces
1 medium sweet onion, diced
1/4 cup flour
4 cups whole milk
1 medium red bell pepper, diced (about 1 cup)
1/4 cup basil, finely chopped
salt and pepper to taste
Combine the vegetable stock, corn cobs and potatoes in a large pot, cover and bring to a boil.
Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer until potatoes are tender, about 10 minutes.
While the potatoes are cooking, melt 2 tablespoons butter in a large heavy-bottomed stockpot over high heat. Add the onion. Cook until browned at the edges, about 5 minutes.
Add the corn. Cook until deep yellow and soft, about 5 minutes.
Add the flour and cook, stirring constantly, until evenly distributed and just beginning to brown, about 2 minutes.
When potatoes are cooked, remove the corn cobs from the stock and discard.
Add the stock and potatoes to the stockpot with the corn.
Add the milk and bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer until thickened, about 2 minutes.
Add the red pepper and basil; stir to combine. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Grilled Vegetable Salad
3 Portobello caps
1 medium red bell pepper, seeded and cut into large planks
4 small tomatoes
2 small Vidalia onions, sliced 1/2-inch thick
1 bunch asparagus, woody ends removed
1 zucchini, sliced lengthwise into 1/2-inch planks
1 yellow squash, sliced lengthwise into 1/2-inch planks
1/2 cup, plus 1 Tbsp., olive oil
salt and pepper
juice of 1/2 lemon
2 Tbsps. thinly sliced fresh basil
Set grill to high heat.
In a large bowl, combine Portobello caps with 1 tablespoon oil; season with salt and pepper.
Arrange mushrooms on grill and cook until browned and softened, about 2 minutes per side.
Repeat with remaining vegetables, tossing each with 1 tablespoon oil, and seasoning generously with salt and pepper. When all the vegetables are cooked, set aside on a baking sheet to cool.
When cool enough to handle, cut vegetables into 2-inch pieces.
Place in a large bowl. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil, lemon juice and basil. May need a bit more salt and pepper.
1 frozen 9-inch deep-dish pie crust
2 Tbsps. unsalted butter
1/2 small bunch asparagus, cut into small pieces on the bias, about 1 cup
1 oz. Gruyère cheese, shredded, about 1/4 cup
1/2 cup milk
salt and pepper to taste
Set oven to 350°.
Place the pie shell on a large baking sheet.
Melt the butter in a large ovenproof skillet over medium-high heat.
Add the asparagus. Cook for 1 minute. Add 2 tablespoons water and cook 2 minutes longer, or until all the water is gone.
Arrange in an even layer in the pie shell. Sprinkle with the Gruyère cheese.
Whisk eggs and milk in a large bowl until frothy.
Season to taste with salt and pepper. Pour the mixture into the pie shell.
Bake until puffy and set in the middle, 30 to 35 minutes.
Serve warm or at room temperature.
Individual Berry Shortcakes
2 cups flour
2 tsps. baking powder
6 Tbsps., plus 1 tsp., sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into 8 pieces, chilled
3/4 cup plus 2 tsps. milk
6 cups assorted berries, such as strawberries, blueberries or raspberries, cleaned, trimmed and halved, if necessary
2 Tbsps. Grand Marnier or other fruit-flavored liqueur
1 cup heavy cream
Preheat oven to 425°. Lightly grease a baking sheet.
In a large bowl, combine the flour, baking powder and 2 tablespoons sugar.
Add the butter and blend the mixture until it resembles a coarse meal. Add 3/4 cup milk and mix until just combined.
Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and press the dough into a round about 1-inch thick. Cut into 6 equal wedges.
Brush with remaining 2 teaspoons milk and sprinkle with 1 teaspoon sugar.
Bake 15 to 20 minutes, or until golden-brown. Set on a rack to cool.
Combine the berries in a medium bowl and sprinkle with 3 tablespoons sugar and liqueur. With your hands, gently crush the berries so they release their juice, but remain in large pieces.
Combine the heavy cream and remaining tablespoon sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a whisk. Mix on high speed about 20 seconds, or until it forms stiff peaks.
To Assemble Shortcakes: Cut each shortcake in half horizontally and place the bottom on a dessert plate. Divide the berry mixture among the shortcake bottoms and top with a heaping 1/2 cup of whipped cream. Top with shortcake tops and a small dollop of whipped cream. Drizzle with remaining berry juice. Serves 6.