The season for corn is too short not to make the most of it, and this chowder makes the most of corn down to the cobs. The kernels are cut from the ears and then the cobs are used to flavor the soup, which is built on a base of aromatic vegetables and herbs. When the vegetables are cooked through, the soup is pureed and more fresh vegetables are added, so that you get something smooth and something chunky in each spoonful. I like to add a little half-and-half to the soup at the end, but that’s optional, as is a last scattering of herbs. Or, see Playing Around (below). And if you want to make a meal of the soup, add seafood.
FRESH-OFF-THE-COB CORN CHOWDER
from EVERYDAY DORIE
WORKING AHEAD: You can make the soup a day ahead up to the point it’s pureed; refrigerate it, reheat and carry on.
4 large ears corn, husked
2 celery stalks, trimmed and finely chopped
1 large sweet onion, such as Vidalia, finely chopped, rinsed and patted dry
1 to 2 garlic cloves, germ removed and minced
1 tablespoon olive oil
Fine sea salt and freshly ground pepper
2 sprigs fresh rosemary
2 sprigs fresh thyme
1 bay leaf
1 slender stalk fennel with fronds (optional)
5 cups (1 1⁄4 liters) water
1 tablespoon chicken or vegetable bouillon base or 1 bouillon cube
3⁄4 pound (340 grams) potatoes, peeled, quartered if large, halved if smaller
4 slices bacon
2 tablespoons white wine
1⁄2 cup (120 ml) half-and-half (optional)
Minced fresh herbs, such as chives, parsley and/or basil (optional)
Set two large bowls on the counter. Cut the corn kernels off the cobs and put half of the corn in each bowl; reserve the cobs. Divide the celery, onion and garlic between the bowls; cover the second bowl and set aside. (Separating the vegetables and then later dividing the potatoes is a bit fussy, but you’ll get a soup with great textures.)
Heat the olive oil in a Dutch oven or large saucepan over medium heat. When it’s warm, add the vegetables from the first bowl, season with salt and pepper, lower the heat and cook, stirring, just until they soften, about 10 minutes. Toss in the herbs, fennel, if using, and the reserved cobs, pour in the water, add the bouillon base or cube and drop in the potatoes. Turn the heat up, bring the liquid to a boil and season with more salt and pepper, then lower the heat, partially cover the pot and simmer for 20 minutes. Test the potato. If it’s tender, the soup is ready. If not, cover the pot completely and cook until a potato can be pierced easily with the tip of knife. Remove from the heat.
Using a slotted spoon, scoop half of the potatoes out of the soup and onto a cutting board, and cut them into small cubes. Set them aside for now. Remove and discard the corn cobs, the bay leaf and any stringy or woody herbs you can see. (You can make the soup up to this point a day ahead and refrigerate it.)
Working in batches if necessary, puree the soup in a blender or a food processor, or use a handheld (immersion) blender. Whatever you use, try to get the soup as smooth as possible. I like my chowder super-smooth, but if you like it chunky, don’t be as thorough. Rinse out the pot if there’s anything stuck to the bottom, then pour in the puree, cover and bring to a simmer over low heat; keep at a gentle simmer while you cook the bacon and the remaining vegetables.
Place the bacon strips in a heavy skillet and cook slowly until crisp, turning as needed. Transfer the bacon to a double thickness of paper towels and cover with more paper towels to remove excess fat (leave the fat in the skillet). Cut the bacon into 1⁄2-inch pieces.
Put the skillet over medium heat and, when the fat is warm, add the vegetables from the reserved bowl (not the cubed potatoes). Season with salt and pepper and cook, stirring, for about 6 minutes, until barely tender. Pour in the wine, raise the heat and cook until it almost evaporates.
Add the skillet vegetables, bacon and potato cubes to the soup and cook at a simmer for 5 to 10 minutes, until everything is piping hot. Taste for salt and pepper.
Ladle the chowder into bowls and, if you’d like, drizzle with half-and-half and scatter over fresh herbs.
Leftover soup can be kept in the refrigerator for up to 2 days. Bring to a boil and then simmer gently for about 10 minutes before serving. Because of the potatoes, the soup will thicken when chilled; if you’d like it thinner after reheating, add water.
The soup lends itself to lots of add-ins and swaps. If you don’t want bacon, sauté the reserved vegetables in a tablespoon of olive oil. If you opt out of the half-and-half but still want something extra, try a drizzle of chive or even chili oil, a little pesto or some grated Parmesan. As for add-ins, consider small cubes of ham (nice if you’re not using the bacon), chunks of cooked shrimp or lobster or even thinly sliced raw scallops — the heat of the soup will cook them perfectly.