Cravings: Tomatoes and Corn

 TomatoesWhen I lived in California, August meals seemed to revolve around two of the seasons sweetest and most refreshing treats – sweet corn and a dizzying array of heirloom tomatoes. For a couple of years, we grew at least 17 different varieties of tomatoes in our garden, and still found ourselves stocking up at the farmers’ market!

My life in NYC is quite different. The landlord frowns on the idea of gardening on the fire escape and the closest farmers’ market is a 20 minute walk from home – and I’ll admit, I’m a bit lazy like that – it’s just easier and more pleasant to get my fix in a restaurant than in my tiny home kitchen. Besides, as much as I love it here, the tomatoes will never compare.

So, when I began planning my recent trip to Northern California, I was determined to indulge in the bounty of the season as frequently as possible. And so I did, every day. In fact, the first two nights that was pretty much it.

One dinner consisted of three types of tomatoes, basil leaves, fresh local goat cheese, and a baguette enjoyed under a fig tree in the backyard of a very dear friend. This was accompanied by great conversation and a couple bottles of wine – a local favorite, Mason Sauvignon Blanc, and something new (to us) from the old world, a rose Sancerre made from Pinot Noir that had an earthy aroma reminiscent of aging cheese and the flavor of ripe red berries and roses – delicious.

Another dinner was designed to fulfill a couple of the wishes I posted on this blog before I left… one, my wish to have a great meal at home with a group of close friends; and the other, to shop for the ingredients at the infamous Berkeley Bowl. I am eternally grateful for the wishes granted! Today, I’ll stick to my topic and write about the dinner. The wonders of B.B. will get a post of their own!

Dinner was simple and delicious (of course – I expect no less with my friend Karen!), fresh corn chowder and heirloom tomatoes with mozzarella di buffula drizzled with rich green local olive oil, sprinkled with crunchy crystals of sel gris.

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My oldest “nephew” Zane also made his now-famous olive knots (homemade dinner rolls studded with bits of kalamata olives), and lemon chiffon ice cream for dessert that was like eating frozen lemon clouds! (sorry no pictures of these treats – difficult to do with olive oil covered fingers!)

I know I don’t post nearly enough recipes here (sorry!), so I’ll start now with one for the corn chowder:

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approximately 6 cups freshly cut corn kernels, cobs reserved (12 +/- ears of corn – can be half canned or frozen if you prefer) Note: Karen has a special tool similar to this (CORN RIPPER) that makes the job much easier and safer.

5 cups stock (chicken or vegetable)

3 slices of thick-cut slab bacon, chopped fine

1 medium onion, diced

1 pound red potatoes, cleanded and diced

1 cup cream (can subsitute half and half or even buttermilk if you prefer)

Salt & freshly ground black pepper, to taste

4 scallions, sliced thin, whites for cooking, greens for garnish

Place half the corn (the canned or frozen half, if you are using that) into a blender or food processor with 2 cups of stock. Puree until smooth – this is the thickener for the soup.

In a Dutch oven or large heavy-bottom pot, brown the bacon over medium heat until crisp. Transfer the bacon to a paper towel lined plate then use the bacon fat to saute the onions until soft but not colored. Add the corn kernels (the fresh half) and season with salt and pepper. Sautee until the vegetables begin to turn golden brown.

Add the potatoes, corn puree, remaining stock and the reserved corn cobs (for flavor). Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer and cook until the potatoes are tender, stirring frequently.

Remove the corn cobs. Stir in the scallion whites, cream, and crisp bacon. Simmer for an additional 5-10 minutes. Season to taste.

Serve garnished with the scallion greens

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