Friday, August 26, 2011

Signs of August
What’s cooking? Chilled Corn Soup with Honeydew Dots

One of the phenomena that I have observed as my children got older was the way I lose track – other than through the weather – of the seasons and the attendant holidays. Columbus Day, Veterans Day, Presidents’ Day, Spring Break, Fall Break ... they come and go with hardly a nod. Absent the monthly notices from school, or the thematic artwork for my refrigerator, or even the need to find child care on days that were observed by the school system but not by my Wall Street employer, I find myself halfway through the fall before I realize I have to start thinking about Thanksgiving. Even the great secondary holidays – Valentines’ Day, St. Patrick’s Day, Halloween – almost escape my notice.

But here in Jersey City, I have a new seasonal marker: I can trace the year’s progress through the activity on the athletic field outside our condo window. I can watch lacrosse in the spring, football in the fall, and various sports camps – primarily soccer – all summer. So how do I know summer is almost over? The football players are finally practicing in full uniform.

Growing up in Texas, I was acutely aware of the importance of football. School spirits rose and fell regularly based on the success of our team, much more so than with basketball or baseball. And while I didn’t understand the intricacies of the game, I still jumped at the chance to be on every pep squad available.

I’m less of a fan these days, cringing when I see players slam into each other – picturing the brain cells scrambling in their heads. My husband played football in high school and college, and as a result of the compressed discs, knee problems, and concussions he suffered, he forbade both of our sons from playing. Still, football is not going away, and part of me watches the practices next door and remembers the way the game wrapped its arms around anyone who wanted to share in the excitement, uniting us in support for our school.

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The days of summer may be almost over, but the farmers’ markets are still loaded with tomatoes, zucchini, lettuce... and corn.

Corn is one of those vegetables that I cannot seem to get enough of when they’re in season. I show up at the market, where the piles of fresh ears beckon me from the far corner of the lot, and I have to force myself to first shop for the other items I need. Because once you have to carry around a half dozen or so ears of corn, well, let’s just say my arms start to feel longer and longer.

My absolute favorite recipe using corn is this soup. Cool, crisp, and pure corn taste. You absolutely must have fresh corn on the cob, and it needs hardly more than a salad of tender greens to make a perfect summer lunch. You are guaranteed raves.

Chilled Corn Soup with Honeydew Dots (adapted from The New York Times, August 21, 2002)

10 medium to large ears corn, shucked
2 cups chicken broth
1 cup filtered water
1 cup skim milk
1 teaspoon salt (¾ teaspoon if using canned broth)
⅛ teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 ripe honeydew melon1½ cups buttermilk (or more)
2 teaspoons basil chiffonade (leaves rolled together and sliced thinly)

Grate kernels from 4 ears corn into a large bowl, using coarse side of grater (there should be 1 cup grated corn, including juices); discard cobs. Using a paring knife, cut kernels from remaining 6 ears (there should be 3 cups); set aside. Break 4 cobs in half, and combine with grated corn, chicken broth and water in 1½-gallon stockpot; discard the 2 remaining cobs. Bring to simmer, and cook, covered, for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove cobs from broth with tongs, and discard.

Pour mixture into blender, and purée until completely smooth (1-2 minutes). Return to pot. Stir in whole kernels, bring to a simmer, and cook until corn is crisp-tender, about 5 minutes. Transfer soup to a bowl (not plastic). Stir in salt and cayenne. Cover and refrigerate, or stir over ice water bath at room temperature until very cold (about 5 hours in refrigerator, 1 hour over ice).

Halve and seed the melon. With a melon baller, make tiny balls (there should be about 1 1/4 cups) or cut melon into dice. Cover melon balls and chill over ice until ready to use (up to 1 hour before serving).

To serve, stir the buttermilk into the soup. Taste, and adjust seasoning. Toss melon balls with basil, and sprinkle with salt. Divide melon balls among 6 chilled shallow bowls. Pour cold soup around melon. Makes 6 fabulous servings.

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