Wednesday, March 11, 2009

A sweet pleasure

One of the best ways to learn about fruit and vegetables is to grow your own. Each season, I enjoy choosing what to grow, nurturing the seedlings and eagerly anticipating when the first crop will be ready for picking and tasting. There's something so satisfying about wandering out to the vegetable patch and being able to pluck some parsley for a garnish, snip off a few lettuce leaves to make a fresh salad, or using your own passionfruit to flavour a sponge.

Growing your own also allows you to enjoy fresh produce at the height of its season, which is one of life's great pleasures. I'd love to be able to eat my favourite fruit and vegetables year-round but most of the enjoyment comes from the fact that the joy of fresh, seasonal produce is so fleeting. The range of produce stocked in supermarkets could fool you into thinking that there's no such thing as seasons anymore, although the watery, joyless taste of out-of-season or imported produce will convince you that it's best to wait until the local season is underway. Understanding and working with the seasons is a good lesson for life in general; I don't think I would enjoy raspberries quite so much if I could eat them every day.

As children, my sisters and I were allowed to choose something to grow ourselves. I always chose sweetcorn and radishes. I loved watching the corn climb against the trellis and the little ears of corn swell into plump cobs. And I loved pulling out clumps of bright red radishes, washing them under the tap and then eating them, although I also loved the little radish flowers that mum made to garnish our salads.

Our little herb and vegetable garden has suffered terribly during this summer's scorching weather. But thankfully my local greengrocer has a great range of fabulous fresh fruit and vegetables and this has come to our rescue. Even though I'm no longer growing my own sweetcorn, it remains one of my favourite things to eat: I can't think of anything more delicious than a cob of sweet and juicy corn, freshly picked, lightly cooked and smothered in melting butter.

Home-grown corn is the best you can have, as sweetcorn begins to deteriorate from the moment it's picked. But my local greengrocer has a good fresh range and it's an acceptable substitute. I've always eaten my corn fairly simply - either lightly boiled and smothered in butter, in a rich corn chowder soup, or perhaps mixed with bacon to make simple fritters. But now, thanks to Molly from Orangette., I've discovered a wonderful, sublimely simple way to enjoy corn and I've been cooking it non-stop since I first tasted it.

Molly has been blogging at Orangette for quite a few years now (and actually has just released a book) but I've only just discovered her wonderful blog, which is very inspiring and impressive in both her descriptions and photos of food. Molly featured this burnt butter corn recipe in 2007, which is based on a recipe from The New York Times. It's barely a recipe, however, but more of an idea: corns kernels, freshly shaved from a cob, are cooked in nutty melted butter with some lemon thyme and salt, and then scattered with fresh parsley. The corn is sweet and nutty and the herbs and salt add an extra dimension of flavour. I've adapted this recipe to Australian tastes.

Brown Buttered Corn

Adapted from a recipe featured on Orangette, 17 September 2007

3 cobs of corn, shucked
3 tablespoons butter, preferably unsalted
4 sprigs thyme, preferably lemon thyme
Finely chopped parsley, for serving

Stand each corn cob vertically on a chopping board and run a large knife down to remove the kernels (or use a shallow wooden or plastic bowl, as the kernels are likely to spray all over the bench, and this will help contain them). Use the back of the knife to scrape the bare cob and release the juices. Set kernels and juices aside.

Melt the butter in a frypan over medium heat. Add the thyme sprigs and cook, stirring frequently, under the butter turns a deep amber shade and smells nutty. Add the kernels, juices and a large pinch of salt and stir well. Cover, reduce heat to medium-low and cook for about five minutes, or until the corn is tender. Remove and discard the thyme sprigs, season to taste with salt, scatter over parsley and serve.

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