Tuesday, August 23, 2011

All You Need to Know About Fresh Corn

When I first moved to Europe in the 70s, it was impossible to buy fresh corn. For my annual traditional Thanksgiving, I would serve corn on the cob that came in cans, much to the chagrin of my European guests. They were unimpressed with the taste and appalled by the idea of eating it with their hands! The French would say, “Ma Cherie” – we give the Maize or how you say “Corin” to the Pigs - never to the humans!” They tolerated my story of the pilgrims learning about corn from the Indians, but I am afraid it only reinforced their ideas about American Indians as portrayed in the Hollywood Westerns they had seen.  In the 80s, Green Giant starting planting fields of fresh corn in France and we were able to get the real thing. I was thrilled on Thanksgiving when I could finally regale my guests with good tasting corn on the cob. And all over France corn started showing up on French tables. But – warm and never on the cob! It became a very popular ingredient in cold salads (which, alas, I had never seen before!). Of course now, corn salads and salsas are everywhere.  Below you will find what I learned about corn through the years and a couple of my favorite recipes for fresh corn – both hot and cold!

How to buy corn on the cob..
First, never buy pre-husked corn. The husk which should be bright green, moist, and fit snugly around the ear, helps keep the kernels moist. The silks should appear pale and moist (but not soggy). Peel back the husk just a bit and look for tightly packed kernels with a few undeveloped kernels at the top of the cob. This is a sign of very young corn which is when it tastes the sweetest. There are two main varieties of corn sold: “sweet corn” and “high-sugar hybrids”. Sweet corn contains about 16 percent sugar; high-sugar hybrids (developed in the 1960s to improve shelf life) contain much more - about 40 percent. These over sweet hybrids tend to be sold in supermarkets. Corn connoisseurs prefer the more complex taste and silky texture of traditional local sweet corn which you find at farm stands.  If you pierce a kernel with your fingertip; sweet corn produces a milky liquid and the hybrids a thin, watery liquid.  Sweet corn tastes best picked in the cool morning hours and rushed to the pot. The minute it’s harvested, enzymes inside the kernels cause the corn’s sweet sugars to start converting into less-sweet compounds. In just three days, corn can lose nearly half its sweetness!  
Storing Corn
To minimize sugar loss, you need to keep corn at cold temperatures. Like other produce, corn contains mostly water and eventually dries when left in the open air. To keep it juicy, leave the husks on and wrap a wet paper towel around the base of the ears; or stand the ears upright in an inch or two of water in the refrigerator and cover with plastic bags.
Cooking corn
Either grill corn in its husks for about 15 minutes or place husked corn in generous amount of rolling boiling water (unsalted because salt toughens the outer skin of the kernels and keeps them from softening during cooking.)
For just 2-3 minutes! If your corn shows signs of age (dry husks, mushy brown silks, shrunken kernels), boost its sweetness by adding some sugar to the boiling water.

Mixed Corn Salad
1 lb fresh ripe tomatoes, diced
2 medium cucumbers diced
1- 2 cups of corn kernels, cooked
½ Vidalia onion, chopped
1 avocado diced
1 clove garlic, crushed
2 tablespoons of first cold press olive oil
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
freshly ground pepper and good sea salt

In the salad bowl, combine the garlic, salt, pepper and balsamic vinegar and whisk in the olive oil, one third at a time. Add the onions, corn kernels, tomatoes, cukes and avocado. Season.

Summer Corn Soup

3 cups whole milk
3 ears of fresh corn, kernels cut from cobs, cobs broken in half and reserved
2 tablespoons butter
1 large Vidalia onion, chopped
1 large carrot, peeled, thinly sliced
1 celery stalk, thinly sliced
1 garlic clove, pressed
2 cups water
2 large fresh sprigs of thyme
2 fresh sprigs of rosemary
1 bay leaf
For the Garnish:
2 thick bacon slices, diced
additional kernels cut from about ½ ear of corn
1 scallion, thinly sliced
Crème fraîche (Or heavy cream)
Bring milk and corncob halves (not kernels) to boil. Remove from heat, cover, and let steep while sautéing vegetables. Melt butter in large saucepan over medium heat. Add onion; sprinkle with salt and sauté until translucent, about 5 minutes (do not let onion brown). Add corn kernels, carrot, celery, and garlic; cook until vegetables are soft, stirring frequently, about 10 minutes. Add 2 cups water, herbs bay leaf, and milk with corncobs. Increase heat and bring to boil. Cover partially, reduce heat to low, and simmer 20 minutes to blend flavors. Discard corncobs, herb sprigs, and bay leaf. Cool soup slightly. Working in batches, puree soup in blender until very smooth. Strain into large bowl, pressing on solids to extract as much liquid as possible. Season soup to taste with salt and pepper (this can be made 1 day ahead. Cover and chill.)
Garnish: Cook chopped bacon in small skillet over medium heat until crisp. Drain on paper towels and transfer to a small bowl. Mix in corn and scallions. Warm soup over medium heat and pour into bowls. Mix in a tablespoon of crème and sprinkle garnish. and serve.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Tomatoes in Season! Tomatoes in Salads!

Now that tomato season is in full bloom we will be eating them everyday in one way or another. Last week we gave you some recipes for cooking fresh tomatoes to accompany grilled meats and fish, today here they are in all their glory - in salads.

Tomates Croque-au-Fleur de Sel
In France, when they have perfect tomatoes they sometimes enjoy them just cut open and sprinkled with sea salt.  Not just any salt, but one of the gourmet sea salts – if possible Fleur de sel ("Flower of salt" ) which is hand-harvested sea salt collected by workers who scrape only the top layer of salt.  Because of its excessive moisture, fleurs de sel does not dissolve when sprinkled on a moist food: instead it retains its crystal structure, giving a slight crunch to the food as well as a slight shimmer. The crystals which are irregularly sized and shaped, dissolve at different rates in the mouth, giving several phases of salting. Fleur de sel is not to be wasted in cooking as it dissolves too fast. It is best used as a finishing touch by sprinkling it over food just before serving.

Tomato, Tuna & Hard Boiled Eggs
(For 4 people):
2 pounds of tomatoes
¼ cup of Vidalia onions (chopped).
1 large can of tuna in olive oil
4 hard boiled eggs, cut in half.
1 teaspoon of Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon of red wine vinegar
1½ tablespoons of peanut oil
Sea Salt & Ground Pepper
Make the dressing by mixing the mustard and vinegar in the bottom of a large bowl in which you will serve the salad. Add any olive oil that you can drain off from the can by pressing and holding back the tuna with a fork while pouring the olive oil into the mixture. Whisk. Add the peanut oil and whisk again. Add the onions .Quarter the tomatoes and add the eggs and tuna. Mix adding salt and pepper. If you prefer to make an artistic presentation on a platter, slice the tomatoes and place them side by side overlapping them all around the serving platter leaving room between the tomatoes and the edges of the platter for the row of halved eggs. Add the tuna (Fill the hole in the middle of the platter).  Sprinkle the onions. Pour the sauce over all of the tomatoes. Add sea sat (fleru de sel if you have) and pepper.

Tomato & Corn Salad
Take any amounts of the following and make appropriate amounts for the number of people you are serving.
Chopped Vidalia Onions
Chopped yellow and/or orange peppers
Cooked or canned corn
Chopped fresh basil.
Dressing:1 part red wine or balsamic red wine vinegar (I like half and half) to three parts olive oil (a good first cold press).
Directions: Pour the vinegar into the bottom of the bowl I which you will serve the salad. Add salt (not fleur de sel) and pepper. Mince 1 large clove of garlic per tablespoon of vinegar into the vinegar. Add 1/3 of the olive oil. Whisk. Add another 1/3 of the oil and whisk again. Add remainder of the oil and whisk one more time.  Add the chopped onions. Cut up and add the fresh tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers corn and avocados. Mix with two large spoons. S[rinjled with Fleur de Sel, ground pepper and fresh basil Serve.

Salad Nicoise
France’s favorite main course salad served all summer daily in just about every restaurant and café on the French Riviera. There are many variations but this is the original.
1 large head Boston-lettuce leaves, washed and dried 
1 pound cooked green beans
½ tablespoons chopped shallots 
 4 ripe red tomatoes, cut into wedges (or 10 to 12 cherry tomatoes, halved) 
 4 "boiling" potatoes, peeled, boiled and sliced
Two 3-ounce cans chunk tuna packed in olive oil
6 hard-boiled eggs, peeled and halved 
1 freshly opened can of flat anchovy fillets 
1/3 cup small black Niçoise-type olives 
2 to 3 tablespoons capers 
3 tablespoons minced fresh parsley
1 teaspoon of Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon of red wine vinegar
3 tablespoons of olive oil
Salt and freshly ground pepper 
Directions: Make your vinaigrette by starting with the mustard and adding the vinegar, salt and pepper and then whisking the olive oil in one tablespoon at a time. Arrange the lettuce leaves in a large shallow bowl. Shortly before serving, toss the green beans with the shallots, spoonfuls of vinaigrette, and salt and pepper. Baste the tomatoes with a spoonful of vinaigrette. Place the potatoes in the center of the platter and arrange a mound of beans at either end, with tomatoes and tuna. Ring the platter with halves of hard-boiled eggs, yellow side up, and curl an anchovy on top of each. Spoon more vinaigrette over all; scatter on olives, capers, and parsley, and serve.

Gerard’s Wine Suggestion
With fresh tomatoes, salads and warm weather these is nothing better than a good rose. I would still serve the Jean Luc Colombo Cape Bleue 2010 that I recommended last week! A soft delicate pink with hints of peach, rose petal and pepper on the nose. Subtle, round and full of finesse, it is surprisingly complex, with intriguing notes of raspberries, fresh cherry, black olive and fennel. Available at Cascade in Amenia bottle ($13.49) or at a bargain in a magnum ($19.99)

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Cooking Tomatoes

Some years ago, Gerard accompanied many of our French Chef friends on a truffle hunt in the south of France. One of the highlights of their trip was having lunch at the home of an American cookbook writer living in Provence. He raved about the house, the kitchen, the meal and the woman and proudly handed me a copy of one of her cookbooks autographed with an invitation to her home. When I saw who it was, I smiled, for I had been collecting and cooking recipes from her (Patricia Wells) for years. In one of her books she gives a recipe for an easy, fairly speedy and always wonderful (in tomato season) ratatouille which I have listed below.  If you make it, make a lot of it! People always ask for seconds. It is good hot or cold, and is even better the next day! I am also including a "tomato concassé(pronounced "kon-kah-SAY") a recipe given to me by Christian Delouvrier (La Mangeoire), one of my mentors. Here he teaches me that cooking fresh tomatoes together with canned tomatoes takes the tomato experience to another level. In both of these southern French recipes, fresh thyme is featured, instead of the familiar basil. Try it! Either recipe beautifully accompanies grilled meat or grilled fish. This weekend I will be serving one of them with grilled lamb chops! 

Speedy Ratatouille
(For 6-8 people):
¼ cup of extra virgin olive oil
10 small very fresh zucchini (washed and cut into very thin slices – do not peel!)
2 lbs of fresh tomatoes (plum are best) cored, peeled, seeded and chopped
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves
2 teaspoons best quality red wine vinegar
3 plump fresh cloves of garlic (peeled and minced)
Sea Salt to taste

Directions: In a very large skillet over moderately high heat, heat the olive oil until hot but not smoking. Add the zucchini and 1 teaspoon of thyme leaves. Sauté, shaking the pan from time to time until the zucchini is just beginning to brown. (About 5 minutes). Add the salt and garlic, stir and cook for a minute or two. (The salt will cause the zucchini to give off liquid which will prevent the garlic from burning). Add tomatoes, tomato paste and vinegar and still over moderate heat continue to sauté, shaking the pan from time to time until all of the ingredients blend well and most of the liquid is absorbed (about 10 minutes). Add remaining thyme and serve warm or at room temperature!

Tomates Concassé
(For 6-8 people):
2 lbs of chopped fresh tomatoes
3 chopped shallots
¼ cup of extra virgin olive oil
a handful of fresh thyme
2 lbs of canned plum tomatoes
salt, pepper,
2 teaspoons of sugar
1 teaspoon orange zest
1 teaspoon lemon zest 

Directions: In 2 tablespoons of olive oil sauté chopped shallots until lucid. Add canned plum tomatoes and equal amount of fresh tomatoes. Add the rest of the olive oil. Season with salt, pepper, sugar and thyme. Cover and bake at 350F for 3 hours. Drain reserving the juice. On the stove reduce the liquid and put tomatoes back in.  Add zests of orange and lemon. Serve with grilled fish or meat.  

Gerard’s Wine Suggestion
With these summer dishes from the south of France, a rose from the same region is the obvious choice. Rona and I recently had the opportunity to entertain Jean-Luc Colombo, one of the best wine producers in Rhone and Provence. Those of you who came to our BBQ in June met him and tasted his excellent rose appropriately named Jean Luc Colombo Cape Bleue 2010. Soft, delicate pink. Subtle hints of peach, rose petal and pepper on the nose. Subtle round and full of finesse. Surprisingly complex, with intriguing notes of raspberries, fresh cherry, black olive and fennel. Available at Cascade in Amenia bottle ($13.49) or at a bargain in a magnum ($19.99)

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Banana Flambée on the BBQ and served with Rum Raisin Ice Cream

(For 8 people):
8 Bananas (old enough to have started turning brown )
4 cups of dark rum.
1 Quart of Vanilla Ice Cream
2 cups of dark raisins (2 days in advance to make the rum raisin ice cream)

This is a recipe that took three chefs to cook up! Jean Louis Dumonet, pictured above,  (The Union Club) has been grilling bananas at our barbecues for over a decade. The secret - buy the bananas a week in advance.

Directions: At a barbecue, after the main course has been consumed and while the coals are still very hot, place the bananas on the hot grill and let them cook for 2-3 minutes on each side. Meanwhile in a pot placed on the grill, bring the rum to a boil – keep warm on the side waiting until the bananas are ready.  When the bananas are cooked the skin will start to open and foam will begin to form - usually at the ends. Slit open the banana skins and cut into the fruit inside. Light the hot liquid in the pot with a long match or lighter and ladle some of the burning rum into each banana. (Be careful, you may not see the flames until they are on the bananas!) When the flames die down the bananas are done!  We traditionally served this with vanilla ice cream, until Christian Delouvrier (La Mangeoire) suggested it would be better with rum raisin ice cream, which Michel Jean (Stissing House) volunteered to make. He explains that he took 1 cup of dark raisins and macerated them in 2/3 cups of dark rum for 2 days. He then took a quart of vanilla ice cream and let it get soft by keeping it at room temperature. He mixed in the macerated raisin and rum so that it was evenly distributed and refroze until we were ready to serve it.  

Other Fruit Desserts: 

Roasted Strawberries
When Christian Delouvrier (at the time - the 4 star Chef at Lespinasse) first came to one of our barbecues many years ago, he complimented two things I had prepared: the roasted red peppers I served as one of the appetizers and the roasted strawberries I served for dessert. I told him my French mother-in-law taught me how to make the peppers (which made him smile knowingly) and that I got the roasted strawberry recipe from his friendly rival, Daniel Boulud. (which made his eyes grow wide and prompted him to give me one of his own recipes!).  I very often make roasted strawberries because it is so easy and so good. I just wash and cut up the strawberries and place them in an ovenproof casserole. I sprinkle some sugar over them and liberally add some pats of butter. As I serve the main course I place the casserole in the oven at 350F. When it is time to serve dessert, I take stem glasses and place some strawberry ice cream (sometimes I add strawberry sorbet and/or vanilla ice cream) and then ladle the hot strawberries with their sauce on top.  Serve with some simple butter cookies.

“La Soupe de Fruits Rouge” (Red Fruit Soup)
(For 4 people)
½ lb of Strawberries
¼ lb of Raspberries
¼ lb of Cherries (pitted)
4 leaves of fresh mint
1 glass of Rivesaltes Wine
Juice of ¼  lemon
1 Tablespoon of Sugar
Directions: Rinse the fruit in cold water. Take half of the strawberries and mix them in a blender with the lemon juice, sugar and wine. Cut the fruit into pieces and pour the liquid mixture over them. Chop the mint and add to the fruit salad. Refrigerate and serve cold with some plain cookies.

Fresh Mint Fruit Salad
I have been looking for a non-alcohol fruit salad and found the following recipe. I tried it but found it too sweet so I adjusted the proportions and we all loved the result.
You need any combination of good seasonal fruit. I used the following:
Watermelon, Pineapple, Honey Dew, Pitted Fresh Cherries, Green Grapes, and Red Grapes.
(all cut into small pieces about the same size)
2 tablespoons of honey (I used Golden Blossom)
3 tablespoons of lime juice
1 tablespoon of light brown sugar
3 tablespoon of fresh mint, washed and chopped finely.
Directions: Whisk the honey, lime and brown sugar together to make the dressing. Pour over the fruit. Add the mint and mix well. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour or up to one day. Serve with plain cookies.