Sunday, July 26, 2009
The Mid-Summer Bounty: Cold Corn Soup with Bacon-Roasted Tomatoes
For about ten-and-a-half months of every year, citizens of the Northeastern United States wait for the perfect tomato.
You see, in the month of August, and, perhaps, in a good year, for a week or two in September, the most glorious tomatoes you can imagine run rampant through Pennsylvania, running over the border from New Jersey, carefully selected at the farmer's market, or, best of all, picked right from a vine in your own backyard. It's a matter of feast or famine. Now, of course, the best specimens, as any gardener can tell you, are the ones you grow yourself. Problem is, living in a city, with only a fire escape to grow things on, it's hard to bring big, beautiful beefsteaks to term; in truth, anything more than an herb garden can present a challenge.
This year, however, I found a compromise; I would try and grow grape tomatoes, those bundles of bursting umami that deliver big flavor in a small package. Best of all, grape tomatoes don't take until August to get ripe -- by the middle of July, their season is in full swing. Now, I don't expect you to have grown your own -- my little Charlie Brown plant has only yielded a half-dozen baby fruits itself -- but I do hope you'll consider going out and getting a pint of these babies while the getting is good. After all, tomato season, even grape tomato season, only lasts so long.
Today, we'll be using grape tomatoes as part of a cold summer soup, along with another early summer treat -- raw, farm fresh corn. Let's get to it.
Fresh Corn Soup with Bacon-Roasted Tomatoes
1 Pint Cherry Tomatoes
1/2 Pound Bacon, thinly sliced (ask at your deli counter)
2 Avocado, whole
4 Ears Sweet Corn
1/4 Cup Whole Milk
8 Cups Water
Cracked Black Pepper
1/4 teaspoon Nutmeg (optional)
1/4 teaspoon Cayenne Pepper (optional)
If you've refrigerated your tomatoes, take them out so that they come up to room temperature.
Start by pouring the 1/4 cup of milk into a bowl. Cut the raw corn off of the four cobs, and place the cut kernels into the milk. Cover the top of the bowl with plastic wrap and place it into the fridge.
Boil eight cups of water. Lower the corn cobs into the water and boil them for 10 minutes. Turn off the heat and let the newly-created corn stock to cool off. Once the liquid is at room temperature (about 30 minutes), remove the cobs, pour the stock into a bowl, wrap the bowl with plastic wrap, and place it into the fridge.
Meanwhile, it's time to prepare the tomatoes. Preheat your oven to 500 degrees F.
Take your strips of bacon and cut them in half. Wrap each tomato, keeping them whole, with a half-strip of bacon. Place the wrapped tomatoes on a greased baking sheet, seam down. Don't pierce them with toothpicks -- while some will inevitably burst during the roasting process, there's no need to go poking holes in all of them.
Place the roasting pan in the hot oven for 10-15 minutes, or until the bacon is crisp.
Remove the bowls of stock and the milk-soaked raw corn from the fridge. They should be nice and cold. Combine the contents of the two bowls and mix. Taste, adjust for salt and pepper, and taste again.
At this point, you'll want to add in your cayenne and nutmeg. Be advised that these are completely optional, and, if you do add them, have a gentle hand. I myself think that they make a very positive contribution; the nutmeg, a classic addition to any milk/cream soup, adds a subtle background spice, and the cayenne brings with it a small bite of heat at the end of each spoonful. Feel free to experiment; it's your soup, after all.
At this point, it's time to serve everything. Split the soup into 8 bowls.
Next, cut your avocados into quarters, and slice each quarter into halves, placing each pair into a bowl to form a small pair of parentheses.
Pile a small mound of bacon-wrapped tomatoes inside each set, and serve!
The final product:
This soup really couldn't be simpler, and its refreshing clarity, its simple beauty, is what makes it so great. The raw corn and cooked corn stock play wonderfully off of each other, featuring two sides of one wonderful ingredient; the bacon adds great texture and saltiness; the avocado a unifying creaminess; and, at the middle of it all, the glorious grape tomato, roasted, concentrated, speaking of summer itself. Simple, beautiful, delicious.
This recipe is all about the ingredients. Get the freshest examples of everything and give it a whirl. We'll be back next weekend with a new recipe -- be sure to check in then.
Music: Joe Hisaishi -- "Summer"