Sunday, August 19, 2012

August Corn III: Corn Fritters

One of the benefits of the early growing season is that we’ve had corn since the first of July, so August corn this year doesn’t have quite the same meaning as in years when corn is really just coming into its own. For me, though, it has a different meaning: the last time I will really eat it until next year.

Yes, I am back in Tucson. You may have suspected, since I missed posting last week--the first sign, at the end of the summer, of impending blog hibernation. I was traveling back to Tucson last weekend, and there is nothing like a change in schedule to throw you off your blogging game. School starts tomorrow, and you know what that means. The game of weekly posts is up.

But back to corn and why I will be on corn, as well as blog, hiatus until next summer. There is corn at the farmers market here, but I can scarcely bear to look at the poor things, let alone buy and eat them. (I know there is an agreement issue with that sentence, but I couldn't make it come out right in singular. Feel compelled to explain.) So I limit my corn eating to New England summer. Ditto with fish.  Fortunately, the Hatch chiles are in to distract me. Maybe this year I will figure out what all the fuss is about.

I love corn fritters of all shapes and varieties, and so decided to make some on one of my last evenings in LC.  These below are yet another type than others on the blog, very much like a clam cake, for those of you from Rhode Island who know from whence I speak.  For those who don’t: they are like little puffs of slightly eggy, fried, studded (with corn, or clams, or…) bread.  I was in the process of cleaning out refrigerator inventory, and made a little dipping sauce with sour cream, buttermilk, scallions, lemon, salt, and pepper.  I had them for my dinner with a glass of wine. A very nice last supper.

RI Corn Fritters

6 ears corn
3 eggs, separated
scant c sifted a-p
1 tea sugar
1 tea salt
2 tea bp
Cayenne and black pepper to taste
Oil for frying

Into a small bowl, cut the kernels from the cobs and and scrape the milk from the cobs. Stir in the egg yolks.  Sift the dry ingredients together and mix into the eggs and corn.. Beat the egg whites stiff and fold them in gently.

Heat about 4” of oil to 375F; drop the batter by the tablespoon into the fat, without crowding.  Cook them, turning them over with a slotted utensil, until they are golden brown. Remove to paper towels and salt while hot. Make sure  your fat is hot enough or these will be too soft; you want them a bit crisp on the outside.  Eat plain or dip into a sauce of your choice.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Past Prime: Versatile Syrups

When all the fruit is coming in like runners in the Olympic torch-bearing relay, it is hard to keep up with the hand-offs.  No matter how much time you spend in your too-hot, too-humid summer kitchen (not, as we know, the ideal weather for jam and jelly making), you are bound to be left with miscellaneous bits of fruit that is no longer—perhaps never was—quite perfect.  In my waste-not, want-not world, which I believe is the world of all true and natural cooks, it’s not possible to throw it out. It is not merely frugality that leads us to resist, although that is part of it. It is challenge:  what can I do with this? If cooking is transformation, what can I make of this? What can I turn it into? The humblest transformations are, in the end, a combination of austerity and creativity.

As Anthony Bourdain pointed out in his Les Halles Cookbook, the French were masters of turning questionable ingredients and odds and ends into good things to eat. From cutting meat creatively to cooking tough pieces for a very long time with flavorful aromatics, they not only made do with what they had, they made things that have become soul-satisfying classics.  One thing you might notice about this, though, is that there was, at the same time, a recognition that you don’t slave and fuss over these less-than-stellar ingredients, or try to make something of them that no amount of attention is going to produce.  If nothing else, a good cook is pragmatic, and knows you cannot make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear. But you can make a very good braised sow’s ear.

It’s the same with fruit past its prime. No pies, no plump preserves or clear jellies, no decorating cakes and tortes, certainly no eating out of hand. But they do make very good syrups and sauces, flavored iced teas and shrubs—anything where the flavor is extracted (usually through heat) and the less-than-perfect fruit strained out, and where you don’t need much if any pectin, which is lost as fruit becomes old or overripe.

I really like to have syrups on hand (two of my favorites are rosehip and rosemary) —and not just for cocktails, although of course they are great for that.  Syrups have many endearing qualities. They last forever. They can be used as an ingredient—in drinks, salad dressings, sauces, frostings and glazes—or as an embellishment—drizzled over cheese, fresh fruit, grilled meats. You can utilize other marginal items in making them—shriveling herbs, fading whole spices, a single slice of lemon or squeezed peels.  They make you feel virtuous because, of course, you did not throw anything out.

Fruit Syrups

You can use any combination that you have, or fancy. For one of these, I used about half blueberries and half sour cherries (for this purpose, you needn’t bother to pit your fruit); I had some leftover, drying mint. This made a deeply flavorful and refreshing syrup. For another, I used Karla’s imperfect peaches—half the price of her perfect ones—slightly bruised and overripe, but still juicy and flavorful and not too far gone. My friend Trina loves bellinis, so I made the peach syrup with her in mind, and with the inspiration of Katie Loeb. A Bellini made with this is much better than, well, a Bellini.

Measure your fruit. Put it in an aluminum or other nonreactive pan with an equal amount of sugar and an equal amount of water.  If you have a small wedge of lemon or orange, squeeze it and then drop it in. Bring to a boil and cook at a moderate bubble for 5 minutes or so, until your fruit has softened, popped, or otherwise begun to break down and release their color and juice. It is not necessary to skim. Remove from the heat. Toss in your herbs and/or spices, stir, and cover. Let steep until cool, or until it is as intense as you like (taste it from time to time). Strain through a fine strainer or cheesecloth into jars; you have my permission to press gently, enough to encourage the fruit to drain, not so much that you force it through as a puree. Cool completely and store in the refrigerator or freezer. Reboil briefly before using after three months or so if you keep it refrigerated rather than frozen.