Corn is one of those vegetables that shines in any number of recipes. Whether eaten straight from the cob, seasoned with only some salt, pepper, and butter, or mixed with other colorful ingredients to make a summery salad, corn is a true culinary star.
Yet despite this virtuosity, I have never seen corn play the leading role in a soup. Of course there’s corn chowder, a chunky soup that most would agree is hard to resist. But that’s an ensemble performance in which the corn has to share the stage with potatoes, milk and often a bit of bacon. No, the soup I’m talking about is one where corn is the soloist, the lead performer, the headliner in a one-person show of edible hits. And in this particular performance, it seems that corn is a perennial no-show.
I was unaware of this void until a few weeks ago when my family drove to Bethany Beach, Delaware for our annual end-of-summer beach week. As we made our way across Delmarva (the large East Coast peninsula where Delaware, Maryland, and Virginia converge), we passed field after field of tasseled stalks of growing corn. Normally, the blur of green just outside our minivan’s windows passes by me largely unnoticed. This time, however, my newly minted blogger self started plotting ways to showcase the surrounding bounty during the week ahead.
Corn on the cob was out, since we wouldn’t have a grill, and seriously, is it really corn on the cob if it doesn’t have smoky-tasting char marks covered with a slathering of butter? No, I’d have to rely on other equally tasty options. Veggie salads that combine freshly cut corn with other seasonal items such as tomatoes, zucchini, and sweet peppers, and even some rustic cornbread dotted with whole kernels of said freshly cut corn all came to mind.
But what about that ultimate convenience food, soup? You know what I’m talking about. That big pot of soup you make at the beginning of the week and then enjoy effortlessly the rest of the week. Puréed soups are especially convenient ways to highlight the flavor of peak-of-season vegetables. But unlike some vegetables such as tomatoes and carrots, whose soupy soliloquies are frequent mealtime fare, in my experience corn’s turn as a solo performer had never really materialized. It was time to remedy that omission.
Cue the entrance of my brand new recipe, homemade creamy corn soup, stove right. It consists of two ingredients, corn and onion (even soloists need an accompanist), embellished with some seasonings. I first cut the kernels from six ears of corn and roughly chopped the onion. After sautéing the onion in some olive oil and butter, I added both the kernels and the shorn cobs (the latter for extra flavor) along with some salt, pepper, and water, and then I simmered the mixture for 30 minutes. I pureed the soup (sans cobs) in a blender until it was silky smooth. For additional richness, I added some half-and half, and then I served bowls of the finished soup garnished with halved cherry tomatoes. The result was a purified essence of corn with bursts of sweet tomato, a definite show-stopper.
Of course, a critic might argue that soup in the summer is not particularly appealing. I have two responses to that critique. First, I am a soup fiend and will happily eat pretty much any kind of soup year-round, regardless of the season.
Second, like the fancy French-style potato-leek soup vichyssoise (which, according to my older daughter, who is in her third year of high school French, is pronounced vish-ee-swahz′ and yes, she rolled her eyes at me when I asked), the beauty of this soup is that it is superb hot or cold.
So, go ahead and steal the late summer dinner show with this recipe. It’s delicious, supremely easy to make, and, since it comes from neither a can nor a microwaveable pouch, terrifically healthy. The reviews will be smashing.
Creamy Corn Soup
kernels from six ears of corn (about six cups)
1 large onion, coarsely chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons butter
5 cups (1,200 milliliters) water
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pepper
1 cup (240 milliliters) half and half
halved cherry tomatoes
1. Prepare the corn: Shuck each ear of corn by removing its husk and silk. Using a sharp knife, cut (or break if you prefer) each shucked ear in half. On a cutting board, stand each half on its cut (broken) end, and then slice the kernels off with the knife.* Scoop up the cut kernels and place them in a bowl. Reserve the cobs.
2. In a large soup pot, melt the butter in the olive oil over medium heat. Add the chopped onion and sauté until they have become thoroughly softened, about 10 minutes. Add the corn kernels, cobs, water, salt and pepper and bring to a boil. Immediately reduce the heat and simmer for 30 minutes. Let cool slightly and then remove and discard the cobs. Using either a countertop blender or immersion blender, puree the soup until it has reached the consistency you prefer. If using the countertop blender, return to the pureed soup to the pot.
3. Stir in the half and half. Either chill the finished soup (for serving cold) or gently reheat it (for serving hot). Serve, garnished with halved cherry tomatoes or crushed pistachios if desired.
*Melissa Clark of the New York Times has a video demonstrating this technique, which you can find here.
Make Ahead: This soup can be made ahead through step 2 and then refrigerated or frozen. To use, thaw any frozen soup overnight in the refrigerator. When ready to use, stir the cold soup several times to reincorporate any parts that may have separated, and then stir in the half and half. Either serve immediately (if serving cold), or gently heat on the stove and then serve (if serving hot). Add desired garnishes.
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