Autumn is near, and these dwindling summer days makes me want to gather up all the sweet ripe produce possible, before it becomes a distant memory. With the weather still sunny and fair, many summery offerings are still available. Some, like tomatoes and peppers, are at their peak. The last of the corn is still on its way to the markets. There are melons, berries and figs to savour, wistfully, even as the afternoon light is beginning to change.
The other day, my favourite farm stand had all of those and more. It didn’t take me long to devise a menu for dinner. (I nearly always base dinner on whatever beautiful items the market has to offer.)
In reverse order, here is what we’d end up having: For dessert, a fruit Macedonia. You don’t need a recipe for that; you merely toss ripe fruit — a few kinds, in slices or chunks — with a little sugar or honey and a splash of sweet wine or a squeeze of lime. A certain alchemy transforms the parts into a greater whole.
The main course would be something from the sea (the fishmonger’s stand was steps away). I couldn’t decide between a quick spicy sauté of calamari, or a boneless piece of fish roasted over thyme branches, a nearly effortless technique that produces great results. I flipped a coin. The squid won out.
I wanted corn to begin with, but not on the cob, which we’ve had a lot lately. But the pile of fat ears got me reminiscing. I thought about the funny little corn holders my mother used to pull out for corn-on-the-cob. Made of bright yellow plastic, they were tiny replicas plunged into both ends of the cob to keep one’s fingers unsullied. I hadn’t thought of them in years. Nor of pretending the corn was a typewriter, nibbling away and crying “ding!” at the end of each row.
With these images on my mind, I opted to make a pureed corn soup. A little on the fancy side, it could be made in the afternoon, heated up to serve later — and not at all difficult. The only fussy part is passing the finished soup through a fine-meshed sieve, which doesn’t take much time. It makes a real difference, however, in transforming each spoonful into a velvety experience, well worth the extra effort for an appetiser. But, of course, this soup could also be a wonderful light lunch on its own, served with the usual suspects: a crusty baguette, a green salad, perhaps a bit of cheese.
For a dramatic finish, I made a bright puree of roasted red pepper seasoned with cayenne and smoked paprika. Swirled into the pale yellow soup, it’s the perfect contrast to the corn’s silky sweetness, and a lovely way to linger just a bit longer with summer’s flavours. —— Corn Soup With Red Pepper Swirl Total time: 45 minutes Yield: 4 to 6 servings
1 large red bell pepper
1 or 2 fresh Fresno chilies, seeds removed, chopped
1 teaspoon pimentón (smoked paprika) or 1/4 teaspoon chipotle chili
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 large onion, diced
3 cups corn kernels (from 4 large ears) or 3 cups frozen corn kernels
6 garlic cloves
4 cups water, corncob broth or chicken broth
Lime wedges, for garnish
1. Place bell pepper over an open flame or under broiler and roast, turning frequently with tongs, until blackened and blistered all over, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool to room temperature. Cut in half vertically. With a paring knife, remove seeds from each half, then turn over and scrape away the blackened skin. Do not rinse; a little remaining char is fine.
2. Transfer roasted pepper to a blender or food processor and add Fresno chilies, pimenton, olive oil, and salt and pepper to taste. Blend to a smooth thick purée. Set aside.
3. Meanwhile, melt butter in a heavy-bottomed soup pot over medium-high heat. Add onions and corn kernels. Season well with salt and pepper and reduce heat to medium. Cooking, stirring, until onions are softened and beginning to colour, 7 to 8 minutes. Add garlic and cook for 1 minute more.
4. Add 3 cups water or broth and salt to taste. Simmer for 15 minutes, until corn is well cooked. Transfer to a blender and whiz to a smooth puree. Thin with water or broth to the consistency of heavy cream.
5. Pass soup through a fine mesh strainer, pressing with the back of a large spoon or ladle to extract every drop of liquid. (This step is important to guarantee a velvety texture.) Discard any fibrous remains. Taste and adjust seasoning.
6. To serve, reheat and ladle into shallow soup bowls. Swirl about 2 tablespoons pepper puree into the centre of each bowl. Pass lime wedges at the table.