What to do with the end of summer surplus? Too many big honkin’ squash in your garden? Too many ears of sweet corn in your CSA box these past few weeks and now you’ve got a surplus taking up too much room in the back of your fridge? In the mood for one last summer swan song of a recipe before diving into the autumn treasures of root vegetables, antique apples, and juicy pears? A little chilly suddenly with the coming of September and in the mood for soup?
If you answered “yes” to one or more of the questions above, then I’ve got the perfect recipe for you! Even if you didn’t answer “yes” to any of those questions (what’s wrong with you?!), you’ll still benefit from a large scrumptious bowl of this Summer Chowder. It’s light enough to still pass as summery supping, but luscious and warming in a perfect prelude to fall fare.
Notice how this recipe features a beautiful pair of summer squash (“pattypans” to be exact). You might remember that I lamented in the last post about my serious lack of summer squash this season. Low and behold, one of my sad-looking squash vines in the garden is putting on a heroic show of late summer determination, producing once again after I’d done everything but pronounce it dead and held a less-than-ceremonious funeral for it at the compost pile. I gave it a big gulp of compost tea yesterday and hope that it will churn out a few more squash for me before the weather gets too cool for this tropical plant. Alas, it still doesn’t help me with my zucchini bread stash as this type of summer squash isn’t adaptable for baked goods.
A lovely reader wrote me a few weeks ago, asking for recipes that might use up sweet corn that had been sitting around too long. (Hope the move went well, Sara!) While sweet corn will look good for quite some time if stored in its husk in a plastic bag in the fridge, it does quickly loose its best flavor as the natural sugars in the corn kernels immediately begin to deplete once the cob is removed from its mother stalk. Because of this sugar breakdown, just-picked corn you buy at that farmers market or get in your CSA share is almost assuredly going to taste better than anything you’d ever get in the supermarket where the corn was probably picked at least a week before it ever made it to the produce section. The best corn you’ll ever have is that which has just been shucked off the stalk in your own garden and immediately boiled and eaten.
This chowder recipe is a great use for that corn on the cob that has been languishing for a few days or even weeks. As the sugars break down in the kernels, they convert to starch. Starch is not so nice to eat fresh off the cob, but it is an excellent thickener for savory chowder. It can be a bit bland if the corn is quite old so don’t be afraid to add heaps of herbs to lend flavor. I have a big pot of lemon grass growing on my deck and thought it would be interesting to try it in this recipe. I didn’t notice any overt lemon flavor in the final bowl, but I do think it added a complexity that made each new spoonful ever more addicting. Use lemon balm or lemon verbena in place of the lemon grass or try a whole new angle with cilantro and tarragon.
A Straight from the Farm Original
1 T. extra virgin olive oil
6 cloves of garlic
1 large onion
5-6 ears of corn
3 C. vegetable broth
3/4 C. heavy cream
1/4 t. freshly ground nutmeg
2 t. salt
1 t. freshly ground black pepper
1 large summer squash
1 t. finely minced lemon grass
1 t. finely minced mint
Set a large skillet or saucepan over medium heat. Heat olive oil while you chop the garlic and onion. Saute garlic and onion while you cut the corn kernels off the cobs. Add the corn kernels to the pan and stir regularly until the corn begins to take on a little golden color. Add the broth and simmer for about 5 minutes.
Remove corn mixture from heat and process with a blender. It will not become completely smooth so don’t worry about that. Add the cream to the blender and process again to combine. Return mixture to the pan over low heat. Add nutmeg, salt, and pepper. If the soup is too thick for your tastes, add a little more cream or broth now to thin it. Let simmer while you chop the squash into small cubes, removing the seeds if they’re large.
Add chopped squash, lemon grass and mint to the soup and simmer on low heat, being sure not to let it boil, until squash is tender, about 15 minutes. Serve with a mint garnish and crusty bread for dipping.