If you are regular reader of this blog, you may remember that I consider myself the world’s worst gardener. Every spring I start thinking about what to plant, always full of hope and sure that this is the year I’m going to actually grow something and reap the fruits (and veggies) of my labor. This year my season’s worth of efforts reaped six grape tomatoes and two pods of okra for us humans. The wildlife ate well though. The chipmunks ate all the seeds, the groundhog ate the basil, and the deer ate every-stinking-thing else. They even eat the green tomatoes once they reached some mysterious deerlicious state. Every leaf off the parsley and okra plants is gone too, leaving green stems sticking out of the ground.
So you’re probably not too surprised that I don’t try to grow my own corn. I dream of it. See, in my imagination I’m a regular farmer. In the spring I visualize tall thick tomato plants heavy with ripe fruit. I plan on canning things, making pies, sauces and other goodies from what I’ve grown. I think that neat rows of corn as high as an elephant’s eye would look great in the spot of my yard currently overtaken with Japanese Knotweed. In my vision I’m a bit like a Disney princess feeding the deer an apple from my tree laden with fruit and laughing with the chipmunks. But in my dream even the Snow White version of myself hates the groundhog.
Alas, my reality is weekly trips to the local farmer’s market. Not that the farmer’s market is bad, but it’s slightly less romantic than plucking ripe tomatoes a la the Disney Martha Stewart. Luckily for me it’s a good year for the local corn here in New England. Every time I pick up another batch it’s even better than the time before. I’ve had corn on the cob so many times in the past month that think I might start sprouting cobs. So, it’s time to branch out, pull out the soup pot and get to chowdering.
Equipped with a slab of salt pork and a quart of cream, pretty much anyone can make good chowder. But, a rich and satisfying vegetarian version not loaded down with quarts of heavy cream is a little harder. I wanted a nice full flavor; one not only loaded with sweet corn flavor, but also with the flavors of lot of veggies, herbs, and the nutty bite of sharp aged cheddar.
I cut out some, but not all, of the fat by switching from cream to half and half and cutting back on the amount. I also replace the the usual rendered pork fat with a restrained amount of olive oil. To achieve both creamy texture and rich corn flavor I use corn kernels cut off the cob, and also corn grated like in my recipe for creamed corn. The result is a rich and satisfying soup brimming with summer sweet-corn flavor.
The final secret to the success of this recipe is in the garnish. By topping the soup with grated or crumbled aged sharp cheddar, you give each person a burst of flavor that is still melting into the soup as they stir it around and eat it. The flavor gives up gradually, letting the sweetness of the corn hit the palate before giving way to the tang of the cheese. This is not one of those chowders that tastes of nothing but the pure sweet flavor of summer corn. I figure if I wanted that, I’d just make more corn on the cob. Rather it’s a burst of hearty flavors mixed with the best of summer sweet corn to make a soup you’ll be happy you’ve made. Enjoy!
Vegetarian Corn Chowder with Aged Cheddar – Click here for a printer-friendly version of this recipe
The secret to the rich flavor is in the aged cheddar. I love Cabot Cloth-Bound Cheddar for its intense almost nutty flavor, but any aged sharp cheddar will do. Be sure to not only cut off and grate the corn, but to scrape the cobs. Doing so will add so much extra corn pulp and starch that it really boots the creaminess and corn flavor of the soup.
Cabot Cloth-Bound Cheddar
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 small sweet onions (or 1 large), finely chopped (about 2 ½ – 3 cups)
2 stalks celery, finely chopped, about ½ cup
1 carrot, finely chopped, about ½ cup
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 ½ teaspoons thyme, finely chopped
1 teaspoon sage, finely chopped
¼ cup flour
4 cups (1 quart) vegetable stock
1 ½ pound potatoes, peeled and cut into ¼” cubes (about 3 large potatoes)
6 ears fresh corn (see below for prepping instructions)
1 ½ cups half & half
8 ounces sharp aged cheddar, grated or crumbled
fresh snipped chives
salt and pepper to taste
To prep corn:
Using a knife, cut kernels off three ears of corn and set aside but do not throw away cobs.
Use a cheese grater to grate remaining three ears of corn into a large bowl.
Working one ear at a time, drizzle a small amount of water over each of the six ears of corn.
Hold the ear of corn over the bowl with the grated corn and use the back of a knife to scrape the remaining corn pulp and starch into the bowl. Repeat with all of the ears of corn.
You should end up with about 1 ½ cups of cut corn and a little over 2 cups of the grated corn and corn pulp. Keep the two types of corn separate because you add them at different times.
Heat olive oil in a large stock pot or dutch oven over medium heat.
When oil starts to shimmer add onions, carrots, celery and ½ teaspoon of salt.
Saute until vegetables are translucent and soft; about 10 minutes.
Add thyme, sage, garlic and flour and continue to cook stirring frequently until fragrant and flour is no longer raw. Gradually stir in vegetable stock, one cup at a time to prevent lumps. Add potatoes and grated corn with corn pulp. Bring to a simmer and reduce heat to low. Cook, stirring and scraping the bottom of the pot until potatoes are just soft, about 15 minutes.
Add half & half and cut corn kernels. Bring just back to a simmer and season to taste.
To serve, ladle 1 ½ cups of soup into a bowl. Top with one or two tablespoons of crumbled or grated cheddar and a sprinkle of snipped chives.
Ugh, do not get me started on the wrinkles in the fabric. I ironed it twice with steam, and the darn things kept coming back.