Corn: It’s more than just a standard of measurement of elephants’ height. It’s also a most venerable vegetable.
It also happens to be in season right now, though this year’s chilly and wet spring may have somewhat reduced the yield. Still, it’s summer, which means it is time for corn.
And that is reason to celebrate.
I decided to make corn in five different ways. That’s five of my six favorite ways to eat corn, the sixth being on the cob. Actually, my very favorite way is plucked fresh from the stalk and immediately eaten raw, but I have only had the opportunity to do that once.
If you ever get the chance, try it. But if you aren’t growing it yourself, be sure to ask the farmer first. Not only do you need his permission, he can tell you if the corn he grows is meant for people or livestock.
That being said, I made corn five ways that do not involve conversations with farmers you don’t know.
They were all winners. No, they were better than that. They were all Stanley Cup winners. Each was better than the last. I’m talking about seriously incredible recipes here.
I began with Corn Salad à la Mary Anne, which brings together all of the best flavors of the summer in one well-mixed dish. Fresh corn and fresh tomatoes blended with a bit of sweet onion and topped with summery cilantro. It’s like a farmers market on a plate.
Tying the flavors together is the sparing use of a vinaigrette. You can use your favorite vinaigrette if you choose, but I heartily recommend a bistro vinaigrette, which is the best vinaigrette I’ve ever made and maybe the best I’ve ever had.
It’s the only dressing we use at home.
For my second variation on a corn theme, I made a Southern staple: corn pudding.
I lived in the South for nearly 30 years, and in that time I probably consumed a small ocean of corn pudding. Most of it was sweet but some was savory, and I always preferred the savory kind. So when I discovered a recipe for savory corn pudding from Southern Living magazine, I knew that was the one I had to make.
This is the real deal corn pudding. No canned corn. No creamed corn. Certainly no Jiffy Corn Muffin mix.
This is corn pudding made from kernels cut right off the ears, the way God and Robert E. Lee intended. It is made from wholesome ingredients, such as fresh eggs, heavy cream and butter.
I said it was wholesome, I didn’t say it was low cal. But it is also silky and satisfying and utterly magnificent.
My next effort was a corn salad based on a popular Indian street food. To be honest, it looked almost exactly like Corn Salad à la Mary Anne, but the flavors could not be more different.
With this Indian-inspired dish, the corn is first roasted and charred in a pan. The kernels are then tossed in a highly flavored dressing that mixes a blend of traditional spices (cumin, cardamom and garam masala) with heat from cayenne pepper and the cooling citrus bite of fresh-squeezed lime juice.
It’s kind of an astonishing array of tastes, but it works because they all share a flavorful kinship to the corn.
Fritters were next — or as they are officially called, Zucchini Corn Cakes. But really: fritters.
The secret to making these is to squeeze all the moisture you possibly can out of the shredded zucchini, and then squeeze out some more. And then maybe a little more. The as-dry-as-you-can-make-it zucchini is then mixed with corn kernels and scallions, bound with eggs and flour, and flavored with Parmesan, garlic, parsley and basil.
How could you beat fried patties of that mixture? One way, actually: by dipping them in a spicy sauce. The sauce is simple, just a lot of Greek yogurt mixed with a little sriracha, but it is a perfect accompaniment to the fritters.
One dish had to be last, and it happened to be Pappardelle With Corn. This one was so good, a taste tester asked how it managed to taste like it came from a restaurant.
“My spectacular cooking technique,” I said, but really it was the ingredients.
Pappardelle is a long, broad pasta; I went to an Italian market to find it, and I bought a particularly good quality noodle. So the pasta made an especially good base for a dish made from corn, cherry tomatoes, garlic, white wine, chicken broth, scallions and Parmesan, plus a lot of butter.
It’s a truly wonderful dish, just like all of the others. I can’t possibly pick a favorite.
You’ll just have to try them all.