August 04, 2005

Because I am neither a fan of blind spots (those little items in gossip columns that dish dirt without actually naming names) nor of trash-talking about other food blogs, I will not mention by name the site that made its disdain for "what we had for dinner" blogs obvious. Not that I'm not a fan of thoughtful, sophisticated prose; to me, it doesn't get much better than Edward Behr's scholarly, shimmering quarterly The Art of Eating, to which my mother renews my subscription every year on my birthday, but sometimes you want a little brain food with your food food, and sometimes, to quote my beloved Nigel Slater, you just want to make yourself something to eat.

Every year when fresh corn season rolls around, I find myself living on dishes that require it, which means eating one thing for six weeks and then spending the rest of the year craving it. Usually the corn dish of choice is Ismail Merchant's Spiced Corn, which I found in Laurie Colwin's More Home Cooking. It is easier than pie: melt some butter into a skillet, cut fresh corn off the cob, saute it in butter, add salt and as much cayenne as you can stand, and finish the whole thing with cream or half-and-half. Between that and our no-frills market-day lunches of steamed corn on the cob and tomato/mozzarella salad, I've been pretty satisfied with the good thing we have. Then last week I received my new Penzeys Spices catalog, and the corn salsa recipe enclosed was just too good to pass up.

Thus was the birth of the dish we have eaten five days out of the past week, which I have christened the Cornbread Thing, as in "Is it okay if we just have the Cornbread Thing again tonight?" The corn relish varies slightly from the Penzeys recipe, in that I have skipped the optional chipotle powder and roasted red pepper. (Admittedly, it was because I forgot to buy them, but in hindsight this was a smart thing, as I'm not always in the mood for smoke, and I don't think this salsa suffers for the lack of it.) The corn bread comes from Molly O'Neill's New York Cookbook and was contributed by a mystery writer named Sarah Shankman. Ms. Shankman's recipe instructs you to pour the hot oil into the cornbread batter and blend it before spooning it into the skillet, but I find I like this better if I just leave the oil in the pan; the resulting crust is darker, crunchier, just plain better. You can add fresh corn, chilies or cheese to this cornbread, whatever suits you, but please fight the urge to add sugar to it. This is a dense, savory, tangy bread, terrific in the cornbread and prosciutto stuffing I put in the turkey at Thanksgiving, but even better when you split it into layers and turn it into one of the nicest summer dinners you can make.

Corn Relish

6 ears fresh corn on the cob

2 tbsp. good chili powder of your choice (I use the blend from Penzeys, which includes ancho chiles and cumin in the mix)

2 tbsp. water

1/2 large sweet onion, finely diced, or 1 bunch scallions

2-3 garlic cloves, minced

2 medium or 1 large fresh jalapeno chile, finely diced (wear gloves while you do this, and do not touch your face! Trust me on this one!)

1 large ripe tomato, diced, or 1 cup cherry tomatoes, sliced in half

1 tbsp. granulated sugar

1 tsp. salt, divided

1/4 cup olive oil

juice of 2 large, fat limes

Cook corn as you like (I like steaming, but boiling works, too). While the corn is cooking, combine the chili powder and water and let sit for 5 minutes. In a large bowl, combine the onion, garlic, jalapeno and tomato. Decant the chili powder and water into a small mixing bowl and add the sugar, 1/2 teaspoon of the salt, olive oil and lime juice. Pour the dressing over the vegetables and stir to combine. Carefully cut the corn kernels off the cobs -- this is most easily accomplished by cutting off the tips, placing the cut end into a small deep bowl, and slicing down the cob as deeply as possible without picking up too much of the cob. Decant each ear's worth of corn into the bowl before you cut the next one. When all the corn has been added to the bowl, stir, stir, stir, cover and refrigerate overnight. The next day, stir again and add the other 1/2 tsp of salt before serving.

Cornbread

1/4 cup olive oil

1 cup (5 oz.) all-purpose (strong) flour

1 cup (4 1/2 - 5 oz.) stone-ground cornmeal

1 tsp. baking powder

1 tsp. kosher salt

pinch cayenne pepper

1 cup (8 fl. oz.) buttermilk

1 large egg

Preheat oven to 425F (Gas mark 7 for the British among you). Pour oil into an 8" or 9" cast-iron skillet and place in the oven to heat while you mix the batter.

In a medium bowl, combine the flour, cornmeal, baking powder, salt and cayenne. ( If you are adding other ingredients, such as cheese, fresh corn or fresh jalapenos, add them to the dry ingredients now.) Add the egg to the buttermilk and beat briefly with a fork, just to combine. Pour the buttermilk and egg into the dry ingredients and stir to combine. This is a very thick, pasty batter, which will not pour, but if it is too stiff to fully incorporate the dry ingredients, add a little extra buttermilk. Remove the skillet from the oven and carefully spoon the batter into the pan. Return the skillet to the oven and bake for approximately 25 minutes (check after 20). When the cornbread is done, it will be well-risen and lightly golden on top, and a toothpick inserted in the center will emerge clean. Carefully invert the skillet over a plate -- watch out for the oil and do not burn yourself! -- turn the bread out onto the plate, and transfer it to a cooling rack. The bottom surface of the cornbread will now be on top, and it will be gorgeous: deeply browned, fried, crunchy, just like a hush puppy. Try not to pick at the crumbs while you assemble everything.

Assembly

Cornbread

Corn salsa

Greek yogurt (full-fat or 2%) or sour cream

Fresh coriander (cilantro)

Cut cornbread into fourths (each 1/4 is one serving) and split each fourth into two layers. Spread a layer of yogurt or sour cream on the cut edges. Top with the corn salsa. Tear some fresh coriander leaves into small pieces and top the salsa with them. Yes, it's very pretty. It tastes even better.

Posted by Bakerina at 12:24 AM in incoherent ravings about food • (0) Comments • (0) Trackbacks
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