Corn takes center stage in fabulous fall culinary offerings

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Crispy, savory corncakes provide an unexpected and delicious treat on the autumn dinner table.

With the Octoberfest festivities fresh in our minds, today’s a good day to celebrate one of Nature’s brightest golden gifts to the dinner table – corn.

Though genetic engineering has seriously marred the goodness and safety of the nation’s commercial corn crops, our local (and other) organic farmers have worked hard to provide good, sweet, old-fashioned corn to be purchased on the cob for preparation as the Lady (or Lord) of the Kitchen sees fit. Many of us have stocked up at the Farmers’ Market and/or at local stores selling organically-locally-grown corn and today’s column will celebrate it with a few recipes that do our native vegetable special honor. Enjoy!

When I was a little girl in Chilco, my favorite fall dish was Grandma Davidson’s simple specialty, fried corn. She simply peeled the husks and silk from the cobs, held them upright with one hand and with a big sharp knife in the other, cut the sweet swaths of corn nuggets off onto the board, gathered them up and tossed them into the great iron skillet awaiting with Buttercup’s sweet butter sizzling and ready. A few pokes with the spatula, some salt and pepper, and then the delectable mass scooped onto a warm platter and onto the table. OMG! Was anything ever so good?!

Sometimes Grandma would have chopped onions fried among the kernels, and often she used bacon grease and/or some cracklings from her home-cured bacon in the mix, but my favorite was the simple corn-and-butter which I still enjoy to this day. Imagine my pleasure last year when visiting family in Bullhead City, AZ., when Granddaughter Amber served it for supper at her house!

On now, to some more special offerings. Though our first is “pancakes” this is definitely a supper dish, great with pork, kielbasa, or with other veggie entrees.

Corn-Green Onion Pancakes

(Serves 8)

1 cup all-purpose flour

2 tsp. baking powder

1 tsp. brown sugar

1/2 tsp. salt

1 1/2 cups milk

2 eggs

2 Tb. cooking oil

2 1/4 cups fresh, sweet corn kernels (may use frozen, thawed)

3/4 cup sliced green onion tops

2 Tb (about) cooking oil (or oil and melted butter mixed)

Mix flour, baking powder, brown sugar and salt in large bowl. In another bowl (or blender container) blend milk, eggs, 2 Tb. cooking oil and 1 cup kernels and blend or beat just to combine; add dry ingredients and mix until blended into a lumpy batter. Pour into bowl and mix in the green onions and remaining 1 1/4 cups corn kernels.

Preheat oven to warm (250F). Heat heavy large griddle or skillet over medium heat and add 1/2 tsp. oil. Spoon batter by 1/4-cupfuls onto griddle, spacing evenly. Cook until pancakes bubble, about 3 minutes; turn and cook until undersides are golden, about 1 minute longer. Transfar to platter, keep warm in oven. Repeat in batches until all pancakes are cooked, adding oil as necessary. Serve pancakes with pure maple syrup if you wish.

Our next dish complements most any entrée from halibut to steak

Fresh Corn and Cheddar Cheese Souffle

(Serves 4)

1 /2 stick butter (4 Tb.)

1 cup fresh corn kernels (2 cobs) or frozen, thawed

3 Tbs. all-purpose flour

1 cup milk

4 egg yolks

1/2 tsp. dry mustard

1/2 tsp. salt

3/4 cup grated sharp Cheddar cheese

1 bunch fresh chives, snipped to 1/4-inch pieces

•••

4 egg whites

Pinch of salt

Preheat oven to 400F. Butter 8-cup soufflé dish. Melt 1 tablespoon butter in heavy medium skillet over medium heat. Add corn and sauté until tender, about 3 minutes. Remove from heat. In a heavy medium saucepan over medium heat, melt 3 Tbs. butter. Add flour and stir with a gravy whisk 3 minutes. Gradually whisk in milk. Boil gently until very thick, stirring constantly about 1 minute. Remove from heat, whisk in yolks one at a time. Whisk in mustard and salt. Season with pepper. Add corn, cheese and chives. With clean dry beaters, beat whites and pinch of salt in deep medium-size bowl until stiff but not dry. Gently stir a quarter of the whites into yolk mixture to lighten, then gently fold in remaining whites until all is incorporated together. Spoon into prepared soufflé dish. Place in pre-heated oven and immediately lower heat to 375F. Bake until puffed and golden on top and soufflé still moves slightly when top is gently touched – about 30 minutes. Serve hot.

In the mood for something South of the Border? Try this great salsa!

Avocado-Corn Salsa

(Makes about 2 1/3 cups)

1 cup fresh corn kernels (or frozen, thawed)

1/4 cup EACH finely chopped red and yellow bell peppers

1/4 cup diced tomatoes

2 Tb. chopped cilantro leaves

2 Tb. fresh lemon juice

1 Tb. finely chopped shallots

1/2 small jalapeno chili, minced

1 cup peeled, diced avocado

Cook corn in boiling water until just tender, 2-3 minutes, drain and cool completely. Transfer to medium bowl. Add remaining ingredients except avocado and toss gently. Add avocado and fold into salsa until completely combined; salt and pepper to taste. Serve with tortilla chips.

We Westerners don’t hear much about the old Southern tradition of spoon bread, but years ago in New Orleans I enjoyed it at a restaurant. A cross between a custard and cornbread, it complements myriad dishes and I enjoyed mine with a savory mushroom/chestnut entrée (which I will share on Thanksgiving, since I asked for and received the recipe). Got the spoon bread recipe, too! Here it is.

Fresh Corn

Spoon Bread

4 cups milk

1 1/4 cups yellow cornmeal

1 1/2 tsp. salt

1 cup fresh corn kernels (or frozen, thawed)

1/3 cup finely chopped green onions w/tops

1/4 cup (1/2 stick) real unsalted butter, cut into pieces

3 large eggs, separated

Preheat oven to 375F. Butter an 8x8x2-inch glass baking dish. Whisk milk, cornmeal and salt in heavy medium saucepan; bring to a boil, whisking constantly until mixture begins to thicken, about 4 minutes. Reduce heat to low and cook until mixture is very thick, stirring frequently, for about 20 minutes. Transfer mixture to large bowl: Stir in corn, green onions and butter. Add egg yolks one at a time to hot mixture, beating well after each addition. Beat egg whites in large bowl until firm peaks form. Fold whites into warm cornmeal mixture in 2 segments, incorporating well each time. Spread mixture evenly in prepared pan. Bake until puffed and light golden brown, about 30 minutes. Serve immediately, with a large spoon for scooping out helpings (best eaten with a fork).

Valle Novak writes the Country Chef and Weekend Gardener columns for the Daily Bee. She can be reached at bcdailybee@bonnercountydailybee.com or by phone at 208-265-4688.

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