My mom and I invented a soup recently. My mom was being creative on behalf of my grandfather; he loves corn, but doesn't like eating it off the cob anymore. He used to plant rows of it in his backyard and hand-pollinate it each spring. For me, the need for the soup was based on, yet again, the surplus of vegetables from the CSA box. Like my grandfather, B doesn't like corn off the cob; he doesn't adore the taste of corn to start off with, and then he dislikes picking it out of his teeth.
But in many ways, corn distills the essence of summer. This was proven to me when we went to my cousin's wedding in Maine last summer (another cousin--keep in mind that I only have five first cousins total, none from New England--got married in Maine last month, but we unfortunately weren't able to attend). Acadia, near Bar Harbor, is a beautiful national park.
In Maine, we ate lobster daily. Most frequently we ate lobster rolls, but we also went to a lobster pound which made B very happy. Here he is holding the bowl of now-empty shells.
At the wedding, we met one of the bride's friends, who had grown up in Maine as the daughter of a lobster boat fisherwoman. We heard crazy stories about the competition for sites to place lobster traps. Basically, it's easy to get a permit from the state to fish for lobster, but hard to find a place to put your traps unless it's been passed down to you for generations! Other fisherman will cut your buoys if they think you're interloping, leaving your trap permanently stuck at the bottom of the ocean.
Times were tough for the bride's friend and her family growing up, and they didn't always have enough money to buy groceries. Every summer, though, they ate like kings. Her mom, obviously, brought home fresh lobster. Their next door neighbor had fields of corn, and he gave them plenty of free ears. She and her siblings would gather wild blueberries for dessert, et voila! A quintessential summer meal was born. Night after night, though, is apparently too much; difficult for me to imagine, but the bride's friend told us that she got sick of having lobster and corn and blueberries without variation.
Maybe they would have been happier if they'd shaken things up with blueberry scones or a corn chowder once in a while. The corn soups that my mom and I came up with are a little bit different, but both end up with a hearty, satisfying meal. Hers has bacon as a base, whereas the smokiness in mine comes from roasting the vegetables ahead of time. The base of my soup uses onions and potatoes, spiced with cumin and seasoned with plenty of salt. The soup is a thick light brown, but the chopped pasilla and red bell pepper together make each spoonful as brightly colored as confetti. The cilantro sprinkled on top adds a fresh, Southwestern note.
Roasting the vegetables is a little bit time-consuming, but can easily be done ahead of time. With them, the soup ends up delicious, corny but good (sort of like B's neverending puns). I've never cooked lobster at home before, but I bet it would be a lovely, sweet complement to the soup, should you find yourself summering in Maine with nothing but corn and shellfish available to eat. Enjoy!
Roasted Corn Chowder
Time: 30 minutes active, 90 minutes total
Serves: 4, as main course (makes about 8 cups)
4 ears of corn, shucked and ends trimmed
2 red bell peppers, cored and halved
2 jalapenos or serranos, or more to taste, stem removed
2 pasilla chiles, cored and halved
4 whole garlic cloves, peeled
2 T. olive oil
2 large onions, peeled and chopped
3 medium sized red or yellow potatoes, peeled and cubed
1 t. salt, or more to taste
1 t. cumin
6 c. chicken broth
1/4 c. cilantro, chopped
sour cream (optional)
Preheat the broiler. Place the corn, bell peppers, jalapenos, pasilla chiles, and garlic cloves in one layer in a Pyrex dish or broiler pan. The peppers should have their shiny side up. Broil for 20 to 25 minutes, flipping once. Peppers should have black blisters on the shiny side. Place roasted bell peppers, jalapenos, and pasilla chiles in a bowl, and cover with plastic wrap for ten minutes or so, until they cool. Then peel off and discard the blackened skin. Chop the peeled chiles. Remove the kernels from the corn with a large knife. Set roasted vegetables aside.
In a large soup pot, heat olive oil over medium-high. Saute onions for 5 minutes, until beginning to soften, and then add potatoes. Cook for an additional 10 minutes, until beginning to brown. Add cumin, salt, and roasted garlic; stir rapidly for 1 minute. Add chicken broth and bring to a boil. Lower heat, and simmer for another 10 minutes or so, until potatoes are softened. Blend soup, preferably with a hand-blender. Add roasted vegetables to soup pot, and simmer until heated through. Taste for salt. Serve garnished with cilantro and sour cream, if using.