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.