Friday, August 25, 2017

sautéed corn with caramelized onions and smoked paprika

I know that years from now, when I think back to this summer, two things will come to mind: a ridiculous pop song about Paris and the local fresh sweet corn.

One of the interesting things about change is the new and inconsistent rhythm it introduces- there are days jammed with stress (the day the movers arrived at our California home to pack up the moving truck was a ballet of chaos) contrasted by stretches of lull and inactivity.

A good example of the lull was the drive from California to Washington. Pretty much a straight shot in driving and we did not stop much a long the way. To keep us entertained, I came up with a last minute game: we went to Target and stood in front of their small display of CDs. (I know, I know, buying CDs in a store? It felt very 1995.) The game was we each got to pick one CD and, during the drive, we had to listen it in it's entirety- no skipping songs we didn't like, no complaining. You can employ varies strategies in this game: you can either pick a CD you both will love or pick a CD your road trip partner will hate, but they can turn right back around and dish the same out to you. I was super tempted to torture my husband with The Best Hits of Nickleback but decided it wasn't worth it. We ended up with U2 Joshua Tree live at Madison Square Garden (my pick) and NOW vol. 62 (my husbands pic). He picked the NOW CD partially to beat me at my own game and partially because pop music is perfect for keeping us awake on long stretches of road.

For the unfamiliar, the NOW albums are comprised of the latest pop hits. Reading through the CD case details (it was a long drive) I learned they are produced something like 3x year. I think the last time I bought one of them, they were at volume 3 or 4, which yes, makes me feel ancient.

Listening to it was fun/diverting because, for most of the CD, we were unfamiliar with the songs or artists. It was fun to approach it without assumptions or prior knowledge. On the second play through, we listened only to the songs we liked best. Lady Gaga (of course we're familiar with her music) is insanely talented and makes it sound easy but just try singing along to "A Million Reasons", that is some serious work. There was also some nonsense song where everything rhymes with "Paris" that is fun- as in "We were living in Paris...something something something...terrace" Cracks us up each time.

This little game is made even more hilarious by the fact that now we are recognizing these songs on the radio or when we run errands in businesses. Forever, these songs will haunt us, remind us of this summer and make us laugh.

The other thing that will always remind me of this summer is cooking, for the first time, with all the beautiful Washington produce. I was not prepared for how much I would be influenced by the seasonality of ingredients, simply by being so close to where they are grown. The first few weeks I was here, it was all about blueberries and cherries. Then apricots made an appearance. Now it's all about corn and peaches. The corn at my grocery store is called bicolor, includes both yellow and while kernels and is 50c an ear. My favorite way to eat fresh corn is grilled and with basil butter. Sadly, we do not have a grill yet and so I wanted a preparation that would pull in some of those smokey elements. Enter caramelized onions and smoked paprika. I served this corn as part of a salad with fresh greens, bbq shredded chicken, homemade julienned pickled vegetables (absolutely worth the effort- recipe here) and a dollop of sour cream. On my first grocery trip I bought four ears and it was so good I went back the next day and bought eight more. The next batch of corn I sautéed up as well but this time included some cubes of fresh zucchini and layered it on homemade pizza dough, brushed with garlic olive oil, along with mozzarella and parmesan cheese.  The sweet bright corn was perfect with the creamy salty cheese and chewy garlic scented dough.

A friend messaged me the other day to ask "Are you spending time in the kitchen? I know that often centers you." She is right. When my world gets topsy turvy, the kitchen becomes my hub. As Nora Ephron famously wrote:

  • "What I love about cooking is that after a hard day, there is something comforting about the fact that if you melt butter and add flour and then hot stock, it will get thick! It’s a sure thing! It’s sure thing in a world where nothing is sure..."

I love the "sureness" of cooking but I also love that when I do it, I am nurturing both myself and my husband. We all have to eat and our particular rhythm says we need to have three meals a day and it is such a relief to know that no matter the chaos, I can create the space to say I will pause and do this with care and thought. I love the actual process as much as I love the end product. I love the thousand decisions along the way. An example from last nights dinner: before adding cilantro to the salad, should I pluck the tender leaves off the stem and then rough chop? or should I fine chop the whole bundle, stems and all, into a kind of heady lemony mulch? I don't even really mind doing the dishes because that means portioning up leftovers as some kind of treasure to help solve tomorrow's challenges (is there anything better than leftover pie for breakfast?) Also, because of that beautiful moment at the end where the kitchen counter is clear and all is put back in it's right spot and the knowledge that tomorrow (or in a few hours) I can walk back and create all over again.

In her book, Small Victories, Julia Turshen writes that we all just need to admit that caramelizing onions takes much longer than we think it does. (At least I think it was her that said this, all my books remain packed up in the 2nd bedroom of my rental house, so it's going to be a while until I can verify). I couldn't agree more.  Recipes that say "caramelize onions for 10 minutes" are just kidding themselves. I genuinely think 30 minutes is needed to properly get the job done. While that may seem like a long-time, anything less is just missing out on that deep flavor. The smokey sweetness of the onions, helped along by the paprika, is darn near perfect with the crisp corn. The good news is I think a big batch of caramelized onions could be made in advance, say on a Sunday afternoon, and stashed in the fridge for quicker weeknight meal prep.

sautéed corn with caramelized onions and smoked paprika

1 large yellow onion
1- 2 tablespoon olive oil
4 ears of fresh corn, kernels cut from the cob (about 3 cups)
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/2 tablespoon butter
kosher salt

1) Put a good glug of olive (1-2 tablespoons) in a large saute pan and heat over medium high.

2) Add onion and cook for a couple of minutes, stirring occasionally, until onions are translucent.

3) Add a good pinch of salt and the smoked paprika. Reduce heat to low and cook until onions are caramelized- deepen in color and are meltingly soft. You want the heat low enough that the onions do not burn but not so low that they don't cook. I find this step usually takes me about 30 minutes. I use the time to tidy up the kitchen and every so often give the onions a little stir.

4) Scoop the onions out of the pan, but leave all the good stickiness on the bottom of the pan. Raise heat to medium high and add 1/2 tablespoon of butter, along with the corn.

5) Saute the corn for 2-3 minutes until crisp tender (seriously, this takes almost no time) and stir back in the reserved caramelized onions. Serve warm or room temperature.

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