Fresh from the farm stand to our table, sweet corn is one of the true Wisconsin tastes of summer, and we’re bringing ears home by the armful. Today, a new family favorite that puts our bounty to work in three ways: a corn chowder with flavors that shine as brightly in the bowl as the golden yellow kernels under their vibrant green husks.
The rich base of homemade chicken bone stock (or quality store-bought chicken or veg) is infused both with the kernels and their stripped cobs (kind of a corn stock hack, if you will). After discarding the cobs, everything is pureed until creamy — made even more so from a cup of white beans. Then comes the third hit of summery flavor in the form of reserved kernels added just before serving to retain that fresh, juicy bite.
Experiment with the varieties of summer sweet corn you like best — yellow, bi-color, white. The chowder keeps nicely in the refrigerator as leftovers or as a make-ahead, and presumably would do well in the freezer for enjoyment later as well. But if you just can’t find good corn now, don’t be afraid to try the frozen cob portions in the off-season.
Bright garlic scape, lemon and parsley gremolata and a pair of crispy bacon dippers are the perfect finish here. For the recipe within the recipe, my gremolata is made of only three ingredients — garlic scapes, parsley and lemon zest — and is a cinch to mix together. Not only that, it holds up a few days in the refrigerator to be used alongside chowder leftovers, or as a zingy addition to to other soups and stews, egg dishes, pizzas, salads, sandwiches, etc. If you can’t find scapes, try fresh chives or slender scallions instead.
What’s In it For Me?
One standard-sized ear of sweet corn provides roughly 10 percent of your daily needs for niacin (vitamin B3), phosphorous and vitamin B6, with just under 10 percent of your thiamin (B1), magnesium, immune-boosting zinc and brain-healthy choline. While corn has a fair amount of natural sugars and starches, it is also surprisingly rich in antioxidant phytochemicals that are broken down more slowly than others, translating into extended benefits for the body. Fun fact: Sweet corn kernels — each cob containing about 800 on average — are actually classified as whole grains; not veg. Who knew?!
For only 125 calories and less than 0.5 g fat, a 1⁄2-cup serving of white beans provides nearly 9 g protein, more than 20 percent of your daily needs for fiber, and nearly 20 percent of your daily iron and the B vitamin folate. White beans are also good sources of potassium, magnesium, copper and zinc, with about 8 percent of your calcium DV as well.
Sulfur from onion, scapes and garlic promotes synthesis of the anti-inflammatory antioxidant glutathione. Thyme is a source of a phytonutrient called thymol, being studied for anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties. Limonene, a phytochemical found in high concentrations in citrus fruit, may have anti-carcinogenic properties, and additional studies show that regular moderate intake of soluble pectin fiber — found predominantly in citrus peels — may help lower cholesterol and triglyceride levels, and decrease risk of atherosclerosis, heart disease and diabetes.
Homemade stock is low in calories, fat and sodium, is another good source of the B vitamin niacin, and offers small amounts of phosphorous, potassium and copper. Stock is naturally hydrating and can help replenish depleted stores of electrolytes. Furthermore, research suggests it may serve as a mild anti-inflammatory.
One ounce of bacon (the weight of an average slice) contains about 120 calories and 4 g saturated fat (10 g total fat), plus 8 g protein. I usually recommend lower-sodium versions, which typically cut sodium by about 25 percent.
Even with that full slice of bacon, which you can certainly omit, the chowder is fairly healthful, packed with beneficial nutrients, and is light yet comfortingly rich. Beyond delicious on its own, with lots of satisfying flavors and textures, you could add a dollop of plain yogurt, or stir in some cooked quinoa, millet or brown rice to make it heartier. The slices of toasty baguette we served on the side were a treat.
From the looks of the fields, these sweet summer staples will hang on a bit longer at local farm stands. A handful of coins goes far in corn, so you (and I) might as well load up and put the stove on. I guarantee you’ll welcome a bowl or two of my fresh-from-the-cob chowder! Enjoy.
Farm Stand Corn Chowder with Garlic Scape Gremolata & Crispy Bacon
Serves 4 to 6
- 6 ears fresh corn, shucked and cleaned
- 2 teaspoons olive oil
- 4 stalks celery, chopped
- 1⁄2 large vidalia or other sweet yellow onion, chopped
- 4 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 tablespoon white wine, optional
- 2 bay leaves (dried or fresh)
- 4 sprigs fresh thyme
- 1 cup cooked white beans — if using canned, rinse and drain well
- 3 cups homemade or low-sodium veg (or chicken) stock
- 3 cups water
- 4 to 6 slices good-quality bacon
- 4 to 8 tablespoons (1⁄4 to 1⁄2 cup) Garlic Scape Gremolata (see Notes at bottom)
- Use a sharp knife to slice down length of the cobs to remove kernels. If you have a bundt or angel food tube pan, a helpful trick is to stand the stem end of the cob atop center hole of the pan. This holds the cob in place as you slice down and collects kernels in the bottom, as opposed to shooting all over your counter and floor. Once all of the kernels are removed, reserve 1 cup in a separate bowl, as well as stripped cobs; set both aside.
- Heat olive oil over medium heat in a large Dutch oven or large saucepan with lid. When warm, add celery, onion and garlic, and season with a pinch of salt. Reduce heat slightly to medium-low and cook, stirring, just until the veg softens, about 10 minutes.
- Turn up the heat, pour in wine if using, and deglaze — scraping bottom of pan with a wooden spoon to pick up any bits. Otherwise, simply add in herbs, beans, reserved cobs, stock and water. Bring liquid to a boil and season with another pinch of salt. Once boiling, reduce heat, partially cover pot and simmer for 20 minutes.
- Remove and discard corn cobs, bay leaf and the sprigs of thyme. (If you want to make the chowder ahead of time, stop at this point, let it cool and then transfer it to the refrigerator.) Working in batches if necessary, carefully transfer soup to a large high-powered blender (or use an immersion/hand/stick blender) and puree until smooth, adding additional stock or water if too thick. Return chowder to the saucepan and add reserved 1 cup of corn kernels; stir once and keep at a gentle simmer over low heat for another 5 to 8 minutes while you prepare the bacon.
- Place bacon strips in a heavy skillet and cook over medium-low heat, flipping occasionally, until as crisp as you like. Carefully transfer cooked bacon onto a couple pieces of paper towel and blot dry with another paper towel to remove excess grease. Snap each strip in half or chop into roughly 1⁄2-inch pieces.
- When ready to serve, taste and season as needed with more salt and pepper. Divide chowder among 4 or 6 bowls, and top each with 1 to 2 tablespoons of prepared gremolata. Stick two bacon halves (or chop and scatter over top) into each bowl, and serve immediately while hot.
- Leftover chowder keeps tightly sealed in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. Before eating, bring it to a boil and then simmer gently for about 10 minutes. If the chowder has thickened too much during the chill, add a splash of water after heating.
How to Make Garlic Scape Gremolata
Makes about 1⁄2 cup
In a small bowl, add 1⁄3 cup minced fresh parsley and 4 finely minced garlic scapes (ends trimmed first) and zest of 1 large lemon. Stir a few times to combine. Store leftovers in a tightly sealing jar or bag in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.