Cooking from the Farms: Sugar and Butter Corn

Posted on July 21, 2010

I walked into the house this morning at 9:30, back from Heron Pond Farm, and began unloading the contents of my rather large orange CSA tote onto the kitchen counter.

My daughter was up and getting ready to head out the same door I had just walked through.

“Hey, I was thinking,” she said.

Instead of picking up on her prompt I held up each vegetable or pile of vegetables for her inspection, making note of every one, talking over her.

“A tomato, a head of garlic, a bag of green beans, some new potatoes, beets, a slicing cucumber, carrots, an eggplant, six ears of corn!”

Yeah, nice.”  She waved each piece of produce on, making appropriate noises of interest.  “I was thinking,” she began again.  “Why don’t we go out for dinner when I get home later tonight?”

She and I would be the only two home for dinner.  A night out, mother and daughter, would be nice of course.  I looked down at the food on the counter and back up at my daughter.  Maybe on a night when there wasn’t so much fresh food to dispatch.

“Why would we eat out?  We have lots of wonderful vegetables to eat up here at home.”

“I know we have lots of wonderful vegetables.  We’ve had lots of wonderful vegetables for the past two days!”

Two days.  The exact amount of time that it has been just her and me.

She crossed her arms, gave me adamant and unbudging.

I had done my best to convince her two nights ago that a big salad dotted with pieces of sweet, creamy Gorgonzola served with tomato-topped bruschetta on the side was a delicious, nay, enviable dinner.  People would pay a lot of money for a meal like that, is, I believe, how I had put it.

And last night, when I dished up pasta with peas and a few of the last green beans all napped in a basil cream sauce (more vegetables) I had reminded her, it’s like this at the end of a CSA week; it’s the scramble to use up the odds and ends to make room for fresh.

All true.  It s also true that I had eaten exactly what I had wanted for those nights, and I did so because the opportunity hardly ever arises.  For the past two days I felt special, I felt well-treated by myself with my big salads and fresh peas, and that is an important exercise.  Every once in a while we cooks need to take care of ourselves by thinking only of ourselves and our tastes.

But as I looked at my daughter, at her arms crossed at her waist, I began to understand what she was really telling me.  She wasn’t saying she needed to go to a restaurant.  Nor was she making a statement about my cooking either, not exactly anyway.  She simply wanted it to be her turn.  She too wanted to eat something she loved.

“Steak?” I asked.

“That would be nice,” she answered.  The arms came down, defenses dropped.  I reckon I even saw the corners of her mouth turn up in the beginnings of a smile.

Cooking is about making someone feel cared for, nurtured, known.  And whether it is yourself or others, it is nice to be on the receiving end.  Tonight, it was time to make my daughter feel special.  It was time for me to make her feel welcome at a table full of her treats.

We had steak and couscous, her favorites.  Naturally I incorporated some of today’s vegetables.  Within the parameters of my daughter’s preferences, I allowed my imagination to run wild.

We both were delighted by the results:

Marinated Grilled Sirloin Steak Tips

Fried Eggplant Slices

Couscous with Corn, Scallions, and Fresh Red Currants

For a quick mid-week steak that doesn’t involve hauling out the charcoal grill, I like to use the long pieces of sirloin known as steak tips.  For tonight’s steak, I marinated the meat in a mixture of balsamic vinegar, brown sugar, a smashed clove of garlic, and some dried oregano; gave it a turn in a hot pan; and finished it to medium in the oven.  After the meat rested, I served it sliced, like a hanger steak.

Fried eggplant should be light and not greasy, crisp on the outside, creamy in.  Sometimes I dip the slices in egg then run them through a mix of flour and cornmeal.  Tonight it was egg and only egg.  The battery edges get all brown and lacy and it is my favorite way to eat eggplant.

Hard to believe that with all these wonderful foods, tonight’s real star was the couscous, but it’s true.  It was.  I usually use Israeli pearl couscous but I had a jar of Tunisian hand-rolled couscous in the cupboard.  The pieces of pasta are on the large side like pearl couscous, without being uniform in shape or size.

I took a leap, throwing corn into couscous, but it worked.  Boy, did it work!  This was a perfect way to use fresh corn:  off the cob and barely cooked.  How much preparation did the corn need anyway?  It was just picked this morning.  It only needed to be highlighted.

The additions of red currants added that highlight with a burst of juice and their tart edge.  Oh, and a beautiful pop of red.  Currants are in season now.  Later, with the end-of-August corn, you might try pomegranate seeds.

Couscous with Corn, Scallions, and Fresh Red Currants

  • 2 Tbsp. canola or vegetable oil
  • ½  tsp. ground cumin
  • ½  small yellow onion, finely chopped
  • 1 ½ cups Israeli pearl couscous
  • 3 cups good quality chicken or vegetable stock
  • the kernels from 4 small-medium sized ears of corn
  • 2 scallions, chopped
  • ½ cup fresh red currants
  • salt to taste

Heat oil in a large sauté pan over medium high heat.  (Saute pan should be one with a tight-fitting lid.) Add the onion and sauté, stirring often, until onion is softened.  Add the cumin and stir, heating the spice through without toasting or burning it.

When onion is soft, add the couscous to the pan and toss it in the oil to coat.  Add the chicken stock and bring the mixture up to a simmer, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking.  Cover the pan.  Reduce heat to low to maintain a gentle simmer, and cook until most of the liquid has been absorbed into the pasta.  Continue to stir occasionally during this simmer.

When liquid is almost absorbed, taste for doneness.  The couscous should be chewy without having a very hard, uncooked center.  If it is just about al dente, add a bit of salt to the pan if needed and stir it in.  Add the corn and scallions to the top of the mixture, stir, and cover pan tightly.  With the heat still on low, steam only until all the liquid has been absorbed, about 2 minutes.  Remove lid, gently stir in the currants, and serve.

Note:  If the couscous is not quite al dente after you first test for doneness, add a little more stock or water at that time and continue cooking gently until the liquid is almost absorbed.  Proceed to finish the dish as described above.

©2010  Jane Ward