I have made it through my first week in Umbria, having suffered through a mild case of jet lag and uncomfortable travel shoes, to find myself relaxed, no longer pronouncing my Italian “gi” as two syllables and with a gullet continuously full of Prosecco and Chianti. This would probably mean that getting out the post about the last stateside soupapoloooza! from TWO weeks ago is kind of important so I can move on to the really fun Italy stuff like handsome famous butchers and hand forged copper pots; both of these things appealing to the true inner geek in me. But I would not be doing anyone any favors if I failed to mention the delicious American soup and the great party that we had back at the loft so many time zones ago.
I’ve never been a huge fan of corn. My mom, the Tiny Dancer, loves it and prepared it all the time when I was little, but I hated the way the silks would get caught between my teeth and there was something that, to me, seemed so undignified about the sloppiness of nibbling it off the cob. I was a fairly persnickety kid, shocking, I know. I also hated the way she considered corn a vegetable, which it kind of is not. “Kind of” because it’s a crop that is usually harvested to be dried and made into a grain, though the fresh corn we eat is technically vegetable because of how we eat it. It’s still sugary as all get out and I consider it more of a grain, and grains and sugars have a tendency to make me kind of grumpy, which no one needs to be around to see. I’ve generally steered away from the corn vendors at the street fairs and at places like Café Habana in New York despite their tremendous gravitational force.
On a recent getaway to Napa that I had the truly good fortune to share with Who Knew Lawyers Could be so Funny and her dog companion Tiki, we had corn coming out of our ears and I was forced-- FORCED I tell you-- to enjoy it with a vigor previously unknown to me. We had it everywhere and in every conceivable way, from custard with a morel foam to a chowder with unidentifiable mixings. It was so summery and delicious that I decided then and there that the embargo must be lifted.
I decided that I would have to cook a white corn soup for the last soupapolooza! in my loft before Labor Day, since it’s at its most delicious right now. Somehow the logistics of the actual making of that corn soup for 20 people didn’t really sink in until I got to the Hollywood Farmer’s Market and realized that I was going to have to carry 50 ears of the stuff down two different blocks full of stroller-laden lollygaggers before I had my first cup of coffee. Side note: no one offered me any assistance with the forty pound box I schlepped to my car. So much for helpful happy hippies.
Then of course there were the meal worms.
I bought my corn before the vendor had a chance to lop the tip of the top off with a machete (how you’ll see it in grocery stores) and since this was local, organic corn, I found myself having a battle royale with an old, beaten up Wüsthof knife and the creatures that had been feeding on the tops of the cobs. It was a little gross to do to all 50 ears of corn and I was reminded of shucking fava beans in a party dress this last spring, and very glad that I was not wearing the same dress since my khakis were somewhat damp with the innards of worms. Not my best look.
But the soup must go on.
And so it did, and it was easy and delicious. The poblano cream garnish really cut the sweetness of the soup and added zing, but not too much-- no one had a problem with the heat. If you do nothing else with corn soup, eat it with chiles.
The rest of the meal included a shaved zucchini salad with lime, cotija cheese, thinly sliced fresh jalapenos and chile threads and a blueberry cobbler with sweet biscuits and homemade buttermilk ice cream. An All-American meal for my big Ciao! to the states.
White corn soup with Poblano cream puree
2 poblano peppers
2 TBSP chicken stock
2-4 TBSP heavy cream
kosher salt, to taste
3 cups chicken stock
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 large onion, chopped
5 cups fresh white corn kernels (from about 10 ears)
kosher salt and black pepper
cilantro leaves, for garnish
Using the gas on the range, char poblanos until black and blistered all over, about 10 minutes. Immediately place pepper in a paper bag and crumple bag tightly; let steam for 10 minutes. Use a paper towel to slide off the skin but do not rinse under water. Remove the seeds.
In a blender, puree the peppers with the chicken stock and cream. Add salt then transfer to a bowl.
Melt the butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until tender (do not let it brown), 10 to 12 minutes.
Add the corn, the 3 cups of chicken stock, salt and pepper and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until the corn is tender, 15 to 20 minutes.
In batches puree the soup until smooth in a blender, adjusting the consistency with chicken stock as desired (an immersion blender works well in this application if you have one).
Serve the soup with a drizzle of the poblano puree then sprinkle with the cilantro.
The highlight of the evening had to be the sabring, or more descriptively, the beautiful ritual beheading of a half dozen or so bottles of champagne. Added to this champagne, artisanal chocolate bitters (or gingerbread bitters, depending on which batch) and orange zest. After a few of these no one cares WHAT the soup tastes like. But it was pretty delish, if I do say so myself, with or without drunkenness to fall back on.
Ciao for now. Time for due prosecci in the piazza. And then.... who knows.