August is a perfect month to read Barbara Kingsolver's smart, substantive Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, the new book about the year her family spent eating from local sources. It's fitting not just because area market stands bulge with summer fare, but because now's our chance to sock some of it away for what Kingsolver calls the "season to come through."
Her book, co-authored by her husband and daughter, is certainly inspiring. While reading it over a recent weekend, I kept hopping up and running into the kitchen to dry tomatoes, brine pickles, pit sour cherries, blend pesto and can beets. Total time for putting up all this bounty? Four and a half hours, including the moments spent sponging some interesting, "Helter Skelter"-like stains off the countertop. Not bad for a time-challenged, green thumb-less urbanite.
Next up is corn. You may not be able to go local as devotedly as Kingsolver has, but if you can handle one store-it-up project this month, consider freezing corn during the cob-saturated weeks ahead. I have a system that wrings every speck of sun-yellow, field-fresh flavor from the ears plus yields four ways for enjoying sweet corn while the getting is good...and when it is gone.
One: Corn in the freezer
Working in batches, blanch shucked cobs for two minutes in boiling water. Transfer cobs to a large bowl of ice water. (Don't discard the corn water.) Dry the cooled cobs on towels. Cut corn off ears, bag it in freezer bags or plastic tubs, and freeze.
Two: Corn essence
Use back edge of a knife to scrape remaining corn bits and juice off cobs. Two dozen large ears yields 2 to 2-1/2 cups essence, which can flavor soup, savory puddings, stews, etc.
Three: Corn stock
Simmer "empty" cobs in the corn water 20 minutes. Strain. Freeze in containers for use in soups, risottos, etc.
Four: Corn essence soup with crisped shallots
Make this as your reward on corn-freezing day. The crisped shallots come from The Minimalist Cooks at Home, by Mark Bittman.
5-6 ounces shallots, thinly sliced about 1 cup corn or canola oil sea salt 4 tablespoons butter 1/4 cup finely chopped shallots 4-5 cups corn "essence," above 1-1/2 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme 2-3 cups corn stock, above freshly ground pepper 1/2 cup sour cream sprigs of fresh thyme
Place oil in saucepan or deep skillet small enough to hold oil at a depth of one inch. Heat a few minutes over medium-high flame. Add a "test" shallot; if the oil bubbles, it's hot enough to add the rest of them. Cook shallots, stirring often and adjusting the heat to keep them bubbling briskly, until brown, 10-12 minutes. Drain on paper towels and salt lightly. (At this point, resistance is futile, but try to save some for the soup.)
Heat butter in pot over medium-low flame. Add shallots and cook, stirring often, until tender, 6-10 minutes. Add corn essence, thyme and enough corn stock to reach desired consistency. Simmer 3-5 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste. Turn off heat. Stir in sour cream. Garnish each bowl with crisped shallots and thyme sprig. Making 6-8 servings.