Friday, August 16, 2013

Sweet Corn Soup and French Food Philosophy

So, I’ll be the first one to admit that when I am stressed, I tend to freak out. I don’t pay attention to the amount of sleep I am getting (usually not enough by far), I constantly think I am un-organized so end up over-organizing (which stresses other people out), and I crave really fatty and sugary foods. The last one is the only one I have managed to learn how to control. Shocking, considering that I have the biggest sweet tooth, like ever.
I am in the midst of finishing up at my job, coordinating another move (back to Madison…back to campus…back to Babcock…the place I will call home again for 2 more years), and mentally preparing myself to begin working towards my Masters. I know, how hard can researching and writing a thesis on crystallization of sugar and fat in caramel be? Well, you’d be surprised. I am sure I’ll be writing about the whole process, and how I will slowly lose my mind (I am really trying to be optimistic, but c’mon, I know myself-I am going to freak out at first, so it is best to be honest with everyone).
Anyways, the point is that it has been difficult to coordinate normal life “things”, like grocery shopping. Thankfully, my boyfriend’s mother has been randomly surprising me with fresh produce items from Madison’s farmers market (of which I am going to religiously each once I am back in Madison): tomatoes, basil, beets, carrots, sweet corn, zucchini….real life savers. In addition, I have also been mentally saved by this book I picked up a few weeks ago. Rarely do I find books regarding food, diet, eating philosophies, etc…that really move me. I have a pretty long laundry list of “food experiences”: I grew up on a family dairy farm, my family (particularly my Grandma) is an avid gardener, my Mom has always been surrounded by plants due to her job (landscape architect) and her personal business (wholesale and residential plant selling-I grew up with a greenhouse), I am getting my masters in Food Science, I have worked for a local dairy and helped promote their products, and I have also worked for several very large fortune 500 food manufacturing companies throughout my college  and post-college years. I have seen the food chain in America (farm to fork, literally). But, with going back to school, I can finally step back and take a breath; the book found me at the right time. It has given me solid inspiration and goals for how I will manage my views on exercise, diet and living in general moving forward. The French emphasize respect for food, and utilizing the freshest ingredients possible. I firmly believe that America has (partially) accomplished the latter, but I feel that we as a culture need to learn more respect for what we ingest (and hold each other more accountable for our lifestyle choices). To sum it up: I feel that this recipe is perfect showcase for those ideals.
This simple (and simple has been the name of the game lately….) and incredibly delicious sweet corn soup with French roots is a must-try. I whipped up a quick basil pesto, chopped up some fresh garden tomatoes from my tomato plants, and drizzled some heavy whipping cream over the soup as a garnish…and voila! With a side of bread and brie, the meal was a real treat. So here it is…if you’re in a pinch, or just love the bounty of late-summer produce, I highly recommend giving this soup a try. It’s sweet (a function of the quality of your sweet corn), creamy because it is pureed, and simple. I have omitted from the original the straining of the final soup, mostly because I do not have a proper strainer at this time, but feel free to do this for a velvety-smooth texture. The un-strained soup is (obviously) just as tasty, but you’ll just want to be sure to use very fresh and tender corn.
The Finished Soup

Also, please don’t skip the butter! I very rarely cook with butter, but there is something very special about butter and fresh sweet corn together, so this is no place for olive oil!

Sweet Corn Soup (Adapted from Dorie Greenspan's Recipe)
Makes enough for 4 generous bowls
 4 ears sweet corn
1 small onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
2 to 4 small carrots, peeled and sliced
2 tablespoons butter
3 cups milk (I used 1%, but anything will do. Whole would be divine…)
2 cups water
2 sprigs fresh thyme, or ½ teaspoon dried thyme
1 bay leaf
Basil pesto (recipe below)
 Notable tools: blender or immersion blender, mortar and pestle or a food processor

Remove the kernels of corn from the cob. To do this, get a large bowl and hold the ear of corn lengthwise in the bowl. With a sharp knife, cut downwards and let the kernels fall into the bowl. Reserve the naked cobs.
In a medium to large pot (I used an enameled cast iron French oven), pour in the 3 cups of milk, cobs, bay leaf and thyme. Bring to a simmer, and allow infusing until you can smell the aromas (about 15 minutes). Turn off the heat.
In separate pan, melt the butter. Add the diced onion and carrots, and gently cook until onions are translucent. Add in the garlic, and cook just until fragrant (don’t brown or burn the garlic). Add the corn, and cook until slightly tender (about 10 minutes). After this, add the 2 cups of water, and simmer until corn is tender (additional 10 minutes).

While you are cooking the corn mixture, drain and/or remove the corn cobs and thyme from the milk. If you used dried thyme, you may leave it in, you’ll just have some thyme-specks in your pureed soup. Once the corn is tender, add the entire mixture to the milk. Simmer until the vegetables are thoroughly cooked, then puree either with an immersion blender or in batches with a blender. If desired, strain the soup in a mesh strainer at this point. Return to the pot, and bring back to desired temperature. Serve with a drizzle of heavy cream, basil pesto and finely chopped tomatoes.

Basil Pesto: in a blender, mortar and pestle or food processor, combine any amount of fresh basil leaves. Add a clove or two of garlic (if desired), a dash of salt, lemon juice (to taste and to preserve color) and a small amount of parmesan cheese (optional!). Blend with an amount of olive oil to allow the pesto to move freely while blending. Can be stored in an air-tight container in the fridge for up to 2 days. The pesto will turn brown; to help mitigate this, you can add more lemon juice over time, directly press on plastic-wrap on the surface of the pesto, or add an additional layer of olive oil over the top to prevent oxygen from entering.

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