Friday, September 10, 2010
SUMMER SQUASH AND CORN CHOWDER
This is a perfect end-of-summer soup, sweet and light and loaded with lots of fresh garden veggies, yet with the savory, comforting quality of a creamy chowder. The weather turned autumnal suddenly (and probably only temporarily, considering September and October are usually our hottest months) here in L.A., and we ended up eating this on a perfect Soup Day, chilly and overcast, but it would have been just as welcome on a warm summer night with a nice tomato salad (or bruschetta, the original serving suggestion, which I skipped only because I am lazy and was undergoing dental work earlier in the day, hence why soup made it into the meal plan to begin with).
I have a couple of other good corn chowder recipes in my arsenal already, so when I spotted this one in the gem-packed August issue of Cooking Light, I questioned whether I really needed to try another. But what sets this one apart is the lack of potatoes—the base is just corn pureed with milk, which adds body without heaviness. Also, the inclusion of yellow summer squash, a vegetable often overlooked in favor of its cousin zucchini; you see a lot of mixed yellow-and-green-squash combos, but rarely a recipe for just yellow squash on its own. Also, cheddar cheese, my first and truest cheesy love and a natural compatriot of corn and bacon.
First of all, I do think Cooking Light is crazy for publishing a corn soup recipe IN AUGUST that calls for frozen corn. Sure, corn is one of the more decent-quality frozen vegetables and it’s fine to allow the option for using frozen corn if fresh is unavailable, but if you’re building an entire recipe around two seasonal vegetables, why would you completely ignore the possibility of fresh corn? I can only guess it’s because the Dinner Tonight section, in which this recipe ran, is geared toward quick recipes, and cutting the kernels off fresh corn would have put this over the 30-minute mark (although of course these promised timeframes exist only in the test kitchens anyway—I think I’m pretty dang efficient as a cook and it always takes me longer than the advertised 30 minutes anyway). Which is sad, because fresh corn is one of the great delights of this world and really makes this dish awesome (not that you shouldn’t try it if you don’t have fresh corn; I’m sure it’s perfectly tasty when made with frozen as well).
Secondly, some of the CL online commenters are even wackier than the magazine itself. While this recipe scored a deserved four out of five stars and has mainly glowing reviews, there were a few heated negative ones that gave me pause when I was weighing the decision to make the soup. Now I can confidently say that those complaints are due to user error, personal tastes, or just plain nuttiness. Among my faves: “I don’t really get this dish. It’s a bunch of vegetables sautéed, then served in warm milk” (apparently this reviewer missed the step of pureeing the corn and milk into a thick base entirely), “I did not get four full servings” (we ended up with four-plus, and I measure ingredients almost as obsessively as CL does), and “the squash had a very prominent flavor” (er, there’s a pound of it in there and it’s mentioned in the recipe title). Not to mention the person who rated it one star with the review “Good recipe! ..wow what a great taste of summer” and the person who rated it two stars with a review admitting they hadn’t made it yet and asking if anyone had tried adding crabmeat to it. (Oh, I could do you a whole separate rant on recipe reviewers who are always saying they threw in some chicken or shrimp “just to make it a full meal.” I’m a happy omnivore, but I don’t get the “it’s not a full meal without meat in there somewhere” contingent. We had big bowls of this soup with small bowls of peaches on the side. It was definitely a full meal.)
But anyway, this was an easy and surprisingly flavorful soup, and we both enjoyed it (that’s a big compliment coming from A, who is not much of a soup lover). I’ll admit I used a bit more bacon and cheese than the parsimonious CL, which I’m sure did not hurt the deliciousness factor, but it was the corn and squash that really shone through (with the celery, which I do not ordinarily like in soup, playing a surprisingly important supporting role in balancing out the sweetness with a bitter tang). I also really enjoyed that it only made four servings. Sometimes it’s nice to make a big pot of soup and enjoy it for weeks (or months, if you freeze some), but summer is about fleeting pleasures, and corn soup is one of those.
2–4 slices bacon, diced
¾ cup sliced green onions, divided
¼ cup chopped celery
1 pound yellow summer squash, chopped
1 pound fresh (from 3–4 large ears) or frozen (thawed) corn kernels, divided
2¼ cups 1% milk, divided
1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
½ teaspoon salt, plus extra to taste
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus extra to taste
¼–½ cup shredded cheddar cheese
1. Cook bacon in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat until crisp. Remove bacon from pan with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels. Add ½ cup onions, celery, and squash to drippings in pan; sauté 8 minutes or until vegetables are tender.
2. Reserve 1 cup corn; set aside. Place the remaining corn and 1 cup milk in a blender; process until smooth. Add remaining 1¼ cups milk, thyme, ½ teaspoon salt, and pepper to blender; process just until combined.
3. Add pureed mixture and reserved 1 cup corn to pan. Reduce heat to medium; cook 5 minutes or until thoroughly heated, stirring constantly. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Divide soup evenly between 4 bowls; top each serving with some bacon, remaining onions, and cheese.
Time: 40 minutes
Leftover potential: Good