Thank goodness football season is over. I’m really not much of a fan. While it’s true that I grew up in Texas, where the sport has been elevated to a status only a few notches below Santa Claus or pimento cheese, I just never bought into it that heavily. So ever since my sons got old enough to enjoy watching with their dad, I’ve used the opportunity to catch up on my reading or maybe try out a fun soup recipe. I used to feign interest – tip-toeing my way through the fog of testosterone, I’d wait for a quiet moment, and ask, “So, what color is our team?” You know, I think they’re really happy when I find something else to do.
I’ve served this soup to family and friends for years. It’s adapted from a recipe in the January 2000 issue of Gourmet, and it’s really easy to make. And if you don’t want to take my word for it, you can check out the reviews for it on epicurious.com. One of the great ways to entertain yourself (if you’re a fanatic chef) is to go to that site and browse the reviews. You have to look hard, but sometimes you can find these hilarious sniping wars between reviewers. My litmus test for a really great recipe is a high number of reviews, combined with a strong user rating; this one has 142 reviews (whew!), and a user rating of 3½ forks out of 4. So there. And while a number of those reviewers reduced the amount of cumin – what, are they crazy?! – I say you can never have too much cumin, so my teaspoons are rounded.
Now, about the purée. I discovered it one day in a search on epicurious for this very same soup recipe, when I happened upon a different corn chowder recipe from July 1992 that turned out to be awful (bland with too much potato and no creaminess). But it had this amazing purée that is bright and sharp and adds just the right touch of tang to the soup – looks great, too – so now I serve it with the good corn chowder, and am very happy.
Cheddar Corn Chowder
(The original recipe says it serves 4, but I've added sausage, so I’d say it now serves 6.)
1 pound sweet Italian sausage
4 bacon slices, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
2 teaspoons ground cumin
3 tablespoons flour
3 cups chicken broth (or 3 cups water plus 1 tablespoon Knorr Chicken Flavored Bouillon powder)
1 large boiling potato, peeled and cut into ¼-inch dice
½ cup half-and-half
10-ounce package frozen corn kernels
1 small can creamed corn
8 ounces sharp Cheddar, grated [K.G. Tip: Get really good quality Cheddar.]
Crumble the sausage in a medium-sized (I use a 5.5-quart Le Creuset) Dutch oven and cook until no pink is left. Pour off the grease and set the cooked sausage aside. Cook the bacon in the same pan over moderate heat, stirring, until crisp and transfer with a slotted spoon to paper towels to drain.
Add the onion and butter to the bacon fat and cook, stirring, until onion is softened. Add cumin and cook, stirring, 1 minute. Add flour and cook, stirring, 1 minute. Whisk in broth and bring to a boil, whisking occasionally. Add potato and simmer, covered, stirring occasionally, until just tender, 8 minutes. Stir in half-and-half and both types of corn, as well as the reserved sausage, and return to a simmer. Add Cheddar, stirring just until cheese is melted (do not let boil), and season generously with pepper. Serve with a dollop of the Jalapeño-Parsley Purée in each bowl. (On its own, the purée is spicy, but not so much once you stir it into the soup.)
5 fresh jalapeño chilies, or jalapeños in a can or jar – whole, sliced, or chopped
¼ cup olive oil
1½ tablespoons fresh lime juice
1 tablespoon water
1 garlic clove, minced
1 cup packed fresh parsley leaves
If you’re really feeling energetic: Broil the jalapeños on the rack of a broiler pan under a preheated broiler about 2 inches from the heat, turning them every 5 minutes, for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the skins are blistered and charred. Transfer the jalapeños to a bowl and let them stand, covered tightly, until they are cool enough to handle. Wearing rubber gloves, peel the jalapeños, cut off the tops, and discard the seeds. If you’re a lazy slob like me: Buy canned jalapeños – they’ve already been roasted and peeled, and they’re a lot milder than the fresh version. Remove the seeds.
In a food processor, puree the jalapeños with the oil, the lime juice, the water, the garlic, the parsley, and salt to taste. The puree may be made 3 days in advance and kept covered and chilled.