When you live outside your home country, the first question nearly every new acquaintance asks you is "What brought you here?" It's a simple question with a complicated answer for most expats. A job, a spouse, a parent, these are all the simple answers. "Because I studied French in high school" is the beginning of the long and complicated answer for me. Because I studied French in high school, I continued it at university. And when I was unhappy in my second year (romance problems of course), I decided to apply for the year abroad program at the Sorbonne. Because I had studied French in high school, and otherwise when would I have a chance to use what I had learned? I didn't actually speak much French or learn much French while in Paris that year as I was terminally shy. But I did fall in love with the city. And so two years later when my boyfriend of the time got a job in Munich, we both thought "Well, it's closer to Paris than here, so why not?" And when the Munich job ended, we moved to Paris. And I got a job, a new boyfriend, a cat, a few sticks of furniture. And then one day I turned around and realized I'd been there for 17 years.
Living in France was a rich experience for me and I wouldn't trade it for anything in the world. It gave me a husband and two adorable children and wonderful friends. It introduced me to a world of good food. But there was one thing missing, I have to admit. Well, actually a few. But I'm here today to talk about one important food. Corn on the cob.
You can take the girl out of the Midwest but good golly you will make her miss her sweet corn. For years, I used to bring back packets of seed corn and distribute them to friends who had houses in the country or suburban yards. "Here, plant some corn - you won't believe how good it is compared to the stuff you can get here in France!" They all took the packets with a bemused smile but not one, as far as I know, actually planted them. In France, you see, the corn you find in the supermarket - on the rare occasions when you can - is half shucked, plastic wrapped and (mostly) from Israel. I'm pretty sure it's the variety that Americans feed to their cattle, not their children. In any case, it's tough, frequently moldy on the underside and not very sweet. And expensive.
So you can imagine my surprise and delight last September when my box of vegetables from the local organic farm included a few ears of genuine, fresh sweet corn. It wasn't quite as tender, juicy and sweet as the corn I devour every summer when we visit the Midwest. But it's manna compared with the corn I have found in Europe until now. In fact, it's so good that this year I ordered 36 extra ears and blanched and froze the kernels for the winter months.
And one recipe I am looking forward to reproducing is a hearty sweet corn soup. This recipe came about when I discovered we had three ears of corn left over after a big barbecue. As you can imagine, when you suffer sweet corn deprivation for 17 years, you are not going to waste a single kernel once you find decent corn. So I chucked the corn in a soup pot with leeks, chicken broth, summer squash and thyme and zapped it with my stick blender. And then I tasted it. And added a handful of grated sharp cheddar cheese. And declared it heaven. The Critic, who also has a healthy appreciation for good sweet corn, loved it. It is the Midwest in a bowl and I'll be pulling a bag of frozen corn out of the freezer this winter whenever I get the Expat Blues.
Sweet Corn Soup (serves 4, WeightWatchers points per serving: 2.5 if you use half-fat cheddar cheese)
The first time I made this soup, I merely whizzed the corn with a stick blender. This will probably work fine if you are using very tender corn. However, next time I will pass the soup through a Chinoise or - better still - the purée attachment on my KitchenAid. The texture of the soup was a bit chewy, which is fine if you are an adult but totally unacceptable for the 2-4 year old crowd.
3 ears of cooked corn on the cob
3-4 small summer squash (you can substitute tender young zucchini but the resulting soup may not be as pretty a yellow)
1 Tbs butter
300 ml chicken stock
5-6 sprigs of fresh thyme
75 g grated cheddar cheese
salt and white pepper to taste
Melt the butter in a stock pot. In the meantime, wash thoroughly and slice the leek in rings. Add it to the butter and stir. While the leek is softening in the butter, slice the kernels off the ears of corn with a sharp knife. Scrape the ears with the side of the knife to extract every bit of juicy goodness. Add the corn to the pot and stir. Wash and cube the summer squash or zucchini. Add it to the pot. Add the thyme leaves and the stock and simmer until the squash is tender. Process in a blender or with a stick blender until smooth. At this point, taste the soup to see if the texture is smooth enough. If not, pass through a Chinoise and return to heat. Stir in the cheese and stir until melted. Taste for seasoning. (A generous pinch of white pepper lifts all the flavors and gives it a bit of a bite.) Serve with crusty home made bread or, better still, these cheese biscuits.
We interrupt our normally scheduled healthy low calorie recipe line up to bring you this sinfully calorific creamy and child-friendly recipe. Sausages. Corn. Salty soft rice. What's not to love?
If you look in the "child-friendly" category of this site, you will unfortunately find very few recipes. This is for a few reasons. Firstly, I believe that in an ideal world, children should gradually come to eat the same as their parents. With the exception of things that are potentially dangerous for young children (raw eggs and seafood for example) I like to think that most of our recipes can either be served to children as they are written or toned down a bit, in the case of very spicy dishes. Secondly, my children do not actually live up to this theory yet. I'm working on it. But many of the things I make for them fall into simple categories like "scrambled eggs with vegetables" or "pasta with vegetables and cheese". The Critic tends to get home far too late to make a family dinner feasible during the week, so too often I cater to the boys with simple food.
This dish, however, bridges the gap between "kid food" and "adult food". The boys (after the usual token "I don't like rice!" opening volley in the food battle) settled down and enthusiastically ate a big bowl each. In terms of healthiness, it's not too bad. Sausages, of course, are full of salt and fat. But sweet corn is in season and absolutely loved by children. With cheese and rice, you have your four basic food groups in a bowl. And it's so tasty that you'll find yourself, like me, sneaking bites out of their bowls while they are absorbed in watching Beauty and the Beast on the laptop. (Yes, we rely on the dinner time cinema at the end of a long and tiring week. All the play dates we planned for the summer holidays have seem to have been crammed into the last week before school starts. It's hard work being a highly social two or four year old around here!)
Sausage and Sweet Corn Risotto (serves two hungry pre-schoolers)
Whenever we have a barbecue, I grill up whatever sausages are left over at the end and either freeze or refrigerate them. Frozen, they can be defrosted and used in stuffing. From the fridge, they can be chopped and mixed into pasta, scrambled eggs or this dish. I've thrown away far too many raw sausages in my day because they sat in the fridge past their sell-by date. Now I cook them up right away!
1 heaping tablespoon butter
1 small leek, chopped fine
3/4 cup risotto rice
1 ear of corn
1 1/2 cooked sausages
2 1/2 cups chicken broth
1/4 cup (or more) freshly grated Parmesan
Melt the butter in a thick-bottomed frying pan. When it is bubbling and frothy, add the chopped leek and cook for a few minutes until soft. Watch the leek like a hawk as it can go from not-quite-soft to brown-and-crispy-and-bitter in a heartbeat. Add the rice and stir for a few minutes until all the grains are nicely coated with butter. Add half the broth and stir. Yes, I know that for an authentic risotto you are meant to add the broth gradually. However, this is not particularly authentic, and you'll want a good amount of liquid to cook the next ingredient: the corn. Using a sharp knife, cut the kernels of corn from the cob. Don't worry too much about getting right next to the cob, just roughly cut off the bulk of the kernels. Add them to the rice and stir. Then hold the cob over the frying pan and gently scrape the cob with the sharp edge of the knife to release the remaining milky insides of the kernels. Cut the sausages into 1/2 cm cubes and add them to the mix. Stir. Add a little broth if it seems to be getting dry. Continue stirring occasionally and adding broth as needed until the rice is plump and soft. Again, an authentic risotto will have a bit of bite to it but I find that my boys are extremely lazy and don't like to chew one bit more than necessary. I cook the rice until it's nice and soft, about 45 minutes from first adding the broth. Remove from the heat and stir in the Parmesan to taste. You shouldn't need salt, as the cheese and sausage will have plenty. You might want a bit of sharp pepper, especially if you are cooking for adults and not children. Though some children like pepper: my youngest is a fan of salt and cracked pepper crisps. I make a lot of risotto for the boys, but this combination is by far the tastiest. There is something about the texture and taste of corn and sausage together with rice that just feels wonderful. And my boys will agree!