I knew I was going to make corn chowder this week because I'd seen the first local corn last week at the U-District market.
This sweet local superstar rarely makes an appearance in early July like all the ads for the 4th of July indicate, but when fresh organic local corn does show up in August, everyone loads up.
On Friday, I surfed the web and thumbed through books looking for soup idea inspiration and finally decided Barbara Kafka's Corn Chowder recipe in Vegetable Love fit the bill.
If you want lots of inspiration in the kitchen, Barbara's book is one I turn to again and again for ideas.
The other inspirations are the farmers' at the markets.
Shopping the market
One of the first places I stopped on Saturday was Grouse Mountain Farm where Michael said, "We brought Blaze today."
I peeked in the van and there she was. Old dogs sleep a lot.
Blaze is 15 and has had an amazing farm career on their small farm near Chelan, Washington. Over the years, she has patrolled fields and has sounded the alert for bears and bobcats, and she often protects the old homestead while Michael and Liz sell at the market on Saturdays.
In her twilight years Blaze is slowing down. I crept around the side and snapped this photo. How old is 15 in dog years?
At their booth, I choose North Star cherries, mulberries, apricots and some summer apples. Then I set off to find soup ingredients.
I found these cayenne peppers at River Farm. Since Billy's Gardens left this market, red peppers are harder to come by, so I got some of these peppers at River Farm. They'll have red peppers in another week or so but I was pretty sure I needed bits of red in this soup of the week.
Don't let fresh hot peppers put you off. Cayenne peppers are variable in heat content. One may have very low heat and another will knock your socks off. It can be a grab bag of heat in the pepper basket.
A few stalls away, Homestead Organic Produce had sweet bi-colored corn. The only problem is Tom likes corn on the cob; I'm the corn chowder fan; so I had to get enough to satisfy Tom's caveman urge to hold a cob and gnaw off the corn.
Though people talk about white or yellow corn, one of the real secrets is getting corn that was freshly picked that day. The late Bob Meyer of Stoney Plains Farm used to bring corn on ice--another tip to keeping the sweet tones in corn. If it sits out in the heat too long, the sweet tones simply disappear, so buy your corn from a farmer who picked it fresh and eat your corn as soon as possible. If you must wait a day or two, keep corn as cold as possible in a bag in the refrigerator.
Prepping the ingredients
With a sharp knife scrape the corn off the cob. You can use the cobs to make a delicious soup stock. Cook grains in it or save it in the freezer for another day.
This bicolor corn is incredibly sweet. Finn is always waiting for me to capture him with the food.
I considered grilling the eggplant and peppers for this soup but I got lazy. When I make this soup again, that's what I'm doing.
Feel free to tweak this soup your way. For a dairy-free version, why not grill some crusty Italian bread, cut it into small pieces to use for garnish.
Here is my revised version of Barbara Kafka's Corn Chowder:
Corn Chowder With Basil, Eggplant and Fire-Cracker Goat Cheese
(Seves 4 to 6)
1 medium eggplant, cut into 1/2-inch slices
1 large sweet onion, chopped
4 to 5 cloves garlic, minced
1 or 2 cayenne peppers, chopped
1 tablespoon oil
1 white potato, peeled and cut into small chunks
4 to 5 ears corn, corn removed (about 3 cup corn)
2 1/2 cups water
1/1/2 cups milk (dairy, coconut, soy or hemp)
1 medium size yellow zucchini, cut into small pieces
5 to 8 sundried tomatoes (from jar or freezer) chopped
Handful of basil, roughly chopped
1 bunch arugula, chopped
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice (or to taste)
Salt to taste
Fire-cracker chevre (or your favorite variety), crumbed (optional)
1. Roast at 350F. or grill eggplant until for tender soft but not mushy. May take 45 minutes in the oven or about 15 on the grill. Cut into bite-size pieces when done.
2. Saute onion, garlic and cayenne peppers in oil until soft but not browned.
3. Add half of the onions, potato, half of the corn and water to a soup pot. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer until fork tender. Puree in batches alternately adding soup and milk.
4. Return to pot. Add zucchini, sundried tomatoes, basil and eggplant pieces. Simmer until zucchini is soft--about 7 minutes. Add arugula, lemon juice and salt to taste.
I put a few basil leaves to style this soup, but don't leave the big basil leaves whole or your dinner guests may get too much of a mouthful. I found out the hard way when Tom said, "Did you put whole basil leaves in?"
The spicy sweet flavors make this soup pure summer. If you have red peppers in your garden, by all means add them to the pot.