Many hours of my childhood were spent between the tall rows of Dad’s corn in the garden.I must have been very small because I remember the stalks towering well over my head. He grew so many vegetables back then: peppers, tomatoes, carrots, green beans. We even had rows of strawberries. But the corn was always my favorite. It was so sweet it barely needed cooking at all. The kernels were delicious raw and starchy. I would usually pick an ear and run inside to quickly cook it in the microwave but sometimes I would sit, hiding in the rows, and eat a raw one, convinced that no one could find me there among the leaves.
Grocery store corn is no comparison, at least not around here. It simply isn’t as fresh. It’s fine, but I don’t have the urge to bite into the raw kernels without cooking them. So when summer dinners call for corn, I tend to spruce it up a bit. Compound butters made with fresh herbs are great slathered over grilled cobs. If I’m servings steaks, maybe a sprinkling of smoked paprika and a hit of lime to give the corn color and a bit of acid to counter the richness of the meat.
Cutting the kernels from the cobs creates so many options, since you can sauté veggies and aromatics with the corn and dress it any number of ways that otherwise might not stick to intact cobs. Lots of herbs work well with corn—basil, oregano, thyme, or chives. Acids, such as citrus juice or vinegars, bring out the sweetness rather than mask it. You can serve sautéed corn hot or you can chill the mixture and call it a salad. Delicious both ways.
For this recipe I used what was handy: a red pepper and basil from the garden, a sweet onion and elephant garlic from the farm stand, and a lime.
Cutting kernels from the cob can be messy if you don’t take the right approach. If you cut the cobs on a cutting board, kernels will fly all over your kitchen. Instead, hold each cob upright in a large bowl and slice from the top down, as pictured. The kernels will fall in the bowl, not on your floor.
Be sure to cut the kernels at their base. If you cut halfway through, you are on the road to making creamed corn; the milky sweet starch will be released. Of course, homemade creamed corn is a delight and probably a whole post in itself.
When choosing cobs, pick heavy ears. Heaviness equals higher moisture content, which indicates freshness. Partially pull back the silks (which should not be moldy) and a little of the husk to take a peek at the kernels. They should look plump, not shriveled. Don’t worry about yellow corn versus white corn—the freshness will matter more than the color.
Lastly, if your corn just isn’t all that sweet, add a very light sprinkling of sugar to the pan as it cooks. Not every piece of produce can be perfect.
Fresh Corn with Basil and Lime
Crunchy, sweet fresh corn is cut from the cob and quickly cooked with onion, red bell pepper, and garlic then finished with a generous amount of fresh basil and a squeeze of lime. The acidity of the lime brings out the natural sweetness of the corn.
1 Tbs. olive oil or butter
5 ears of corn, kernels cut from cobs
1/2 small onion, small dice
1/2 red bell pepper, small dice
1 clove garlic, minced
10 leaves of fresh basil, minced
juice of one lime, or to taste
salt and pepper, to taste
Cut kernels from cobs by standing each ear of corn on its end in a large bowl and slicing from the top down.
Melt butter in a high-sided skillet over medium heat. Add onion, bell pepper, and a pinch of salt. Sweat until soft but not brown, 3-4 minutes. Add garlic, cook 30 seconds or until fragrant. Add corn, salt, and pepper. Raise heat to high and cook quickly, stirring, until corn brightens in color and is heated through. (If you prefer softer corn, use lower heat and cook longer.) Taste the corn; if it isn’t sweet, add a pinch of sugar to the pan and stir well. Remove from heat and finish by adding basil and lime to taste. Adjust salt and pepper. Serve hot or cold.
What’s your favorite way to cook corn? Leave a comment!