When my next-door neighbor left a bag of local corn and tomatoes on my doorstep, it was like Christmas in July. I am polyamorous when it comes to corn and tomatoes — I love them solo and together.
Fresh corn, in its firm green-yellow husks and tangle of brunette silks, and fragrant tomatoes are the two best expressions of summer’s long sunny days. And they deserve to be eaten with minimal intrusion. A brush of butter on a hot ear or a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil on a slab of tomato, with nothing more than coarse salt and freshly ground pepper, make them competitors for the bite of summer.
Recite a list of summer corn favorites, and it almost sounds like scat singing: succotash, spoonbread, maque choux, cachapas, elotes, custards, salsas, puddings, hush puppies, or poppers. Then there’s corn ice cream, and, of course, chowder.
After a lifetime of Cape Cod summers, I have strong opinions about chowder. I want mine rich and creamy, and that’s no excuse for a chowder that’s dense and gluey. Too often in restaurants, chowders sit in a bain marie for hours, until they’re reduced to the realm of paste. If a spoon stands straight up in the cup, be forewarned. While a thick chowder might be welcome, even required, on a blustery winter night, in August, when twilight is a blush rosé and the wind purrs cats’ paws on the water, a lighter chowder is called for.
This all-corn, no-cream, silky chowder is my signature summer soup.
A spin around the Truro farmers’ market (if it’s a Monday) or the Wellfleet one (if it’s a Wednesday), and I have everything I need: South Coast corn and local tomatoes, onions, herbs, garlic, and even bacon. You can probably buy all these at the farmers’ market in Provincetown, too, but I live in Wellfleet, and I don’t do Route 6 on Saturdays.
With peak-season corn and one trick — simmering the cobs in the broth — the corn chowder delivers like a painter’s assured broad yellow brush stroke, pure and commanding.
It’s not lost on me that August is also BLT season. I’d be hard put to find a more perfect union of sweet, salt, fat, and supple and crisp textures. To honor the BLT, I bake a classic sandwich loaf and unashamedly eat them for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
I’ve taken to serving the chowder topped with the elements of a BLT, so there’s no need to choose between my two summer crushes.
If you have hold-the-bacon guests at your table, just go with all tomatoes and more herbs, like tarragon or fennel tops. Making this soup dairy free by using olive oil instead of butter is a no-brainer. And if you want to take it over the top, add a seared scallop or two or a knuckle of lobster, or slip in a couple of oysters to heat and plump at the end.
Corn Chowder With BLT Salsa
6 ears fresh corn
5 Tbsp. unsalted butter
6 cloves garlic, peeled
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 sprigs fresh parsley and thyme
1 bay leaf
Shuck the corn, then shear the corn kernels from the cobs into a bowl. Set aside about a third of the kernels for adding to the soup before serving. Run a knife along the cobs to press out the milky liquid, adding it to the larger bowl of kernels. Snap or cut 3 of the cobs in half; save the remaining cobs for vegetable broth or discard.
Chop the white parts of the scallions and reserve the greens for the BLT salsa, below.
Melt the butter in a soup pot over medium-low heat. Add the scallion whites, garlic cloves, salt, and pepper to taste. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are soft and fragrant, about 5 minutes. Add the larger amount of corn kernels with their “milk” and the pinch of sugar, and cook, covered, stirring occasionally, until the corn is tender, about 5 minutes more.
Tie the parsley, thyme, and bay leaf together with kitchen twine and add to the pot with the reserved cobs and 5 cups water. Bring mixture to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer, uncovered, until slightly thickened, about 30 minutes. Remove the herb bundle and cobs and discard them. Cool slightly.
Puree the soup in a blender until smooth and creamy, working in batches if need be — take care not to overfill the blender with the hot liquid. Return the soup to the pot, add the reserved corn kernels, and simmer over medium heat, uncovered, until the whole corn kernels are heated, about 5 minutes. Taste and adjust the salt and pepper. Divide the soup among soup bowls and mound a portion of the BLT salsa in the center of each bowl before serving.
Makes about 1½ cups
2 pieces bacon
1 cup mixed small tomatoes or one large tomato
A handful (¼ cup) arugula or small lettuce leaves
¼ cup torn fresh herbs, such as basil, tarragon, nasturtium, or mint
4 scallion greens, thinly sliced
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Cook the bacon in a skillet over medium heat until crisp tender and drain. Break into pieces.
Halve the small tomatoes or chop the large one. Toss the tomatoes with the greens, herbs, and scallions and season with salt and pepper. Add the bacon.