Corn is another quintessential summer fixture. Technically a grain, not a vegetable as is often assumed, tall maize stalks are actually large grasses on which the cobs grow. Corn, or maize, was domesticated 10,000 years ago by the indigenous peoples of Southern Mexico. While it originated in the Americas, it is now a leading global cereal crop. Much of that corn is genetically modified and a far cry from the sacred grain of the ancients, or the subsistence farms that still rely on it for food and income.
Sweet corn is indeed appropriately named; a sweeter, less starchy version of field corn, and prized for its juicy sweet kernels. Sweet corn is a summer staple, and should ideally be used as soon as possible after harvesting, since the natural sugar quickly begins converting to starch. The tender cobs need little adornment and are delicious fresh or cooked.
I spent the majority of my childhood in the Midwestern USA and Mexico, both places where corn is a big deal. In the fields and gardens of Wisconsin and surrounding states the saying goes that corn should be 'knee high by the Fourth of July', and driving any backroads away from the lake one would encounter row upon row of green sweet corn tassels in the summer months. In Mexico maíz is less a crop and more a deep symbol, inextricably tied to the lives of the people; economically, physically, and spiritually sustaining.
I could write at length on my ties to maize and the strong feelings it evokes, but for now let me simply say I love it- tender sweet corn, chewy field corn, raw or cooked, naked or covered in spice. My first thought upon finding a few ears of sweet corn in the veggie box was to grill them alongside a heap of other vegetables, but alas I need to sort out our BBQ (stay tuned, I foresee a grill write up in the near future).
So instead I took the corn and a bunch of those veggies and tossed them in a simple soup with cannellini beans and leftover rice for a hearty undertone. Now, I know that soup is considered a cold weather dish, but summer vegetables tossed in a flavourful broth, with bits of corn for a sweet pop in every mouthful- so good! So simple. So easy to simmer away while you do anything else.
3 tablespoons Oil
1 Onion, diced
3-4 Carrots, quartered and diced
3 stalks of Celery, diced
3 cloves Garlic, minced
3-4 small/medium Courgette, halved and diced
2-3 ears Sweet Corn, corn sliced off cob; keep both kernels and cobs
2 cups Cannellini Beans, precooked or canned (you can substitute another bean if you prefer, but I like a white bean here)
1 Capsicum, diced
8 cups Broth (I use a great powdered bouillon added to water, but if you use liquid broth that's fine, too)
3 Bay Leaves
3/4 teaspoon Thyme
3/4 teaspoon Basil
3/4 teaspoon Oregano
3/4 teaspoon Paprika
Pinch of Cayenne or Chili Flakes
Sea Salt and Ground Peppercorn, to taste
Optional: 1 cup leftover Rice
The How To:
Grab a large pot, over medium heat drizzle oil, then add onion, carrot, and celery. Cook for about 5 minutes, allowing the mix to soften slightly. Add garlic and cook for another minute. To the pot add everything else- vegetables, beans, spices, corn cobs- except for the corn kernels. Bring this to a boil, then lower to a simmer for at least 20 minutes. Stir in the sweet corn kernels and simmer for another 5 minutes. When ready to serve, remove the cobs, then ladle into bowls and taste the summer sweet corn medley.
-Please don't throw your corn cobs straight into the compost! They make such a good stock flavouring or poaching liquid, and dried out are great pot scrubbers, too. For that matter you can use the corn husks to wrap and steam food parcels in, and the corn silk can be used as a tea. Multipurpose food!