As the summer days start to fade gradually into early fall, I love to make dishes that use up the late-summer produce but who have a decidedly cooler weather vibe to them. I love the summer, but the fall is my favorite season of all time. Something about the foliage, pumpkin patches, and apple-picking that make me so happy. But admittedly it means winter is slowly approaching and lets face it- none of us are ready for that. So making the inevitable transition from flip flops to foliage is one that I take very seriously- and I think this Summer Corn Chowder is the perfect example of that.
Here in Ohio, and throughout much of the mid-west, sweet corn is plentiful and you will find it on every roadside stand, farmers market and grocery store display. It’s especially sweet and has an oddly satisfying juicy pop in the kernels when you bite into it. It’s the best time of the year for these guys since corn the rest of the year just isn’t as good as it is now.
There are a few hard and fast rules I have when it comes to soup-building, which I will cover first so you can see where I deviate, but also a few things I do differently with my corn chowder recipe that you might not see with some others. And I’ll explain why at the end.
The key to soup-making, in my experience, is building the flavors one step at a time, and preparing each component in a way that brings out the most taste and texture as you can. Browning the pancetta first adds another level of flavor, and using the oil released from it to cook the veggies helps them brown and keep that pancetta flavor alive. You can leave it and the chicken stock out if you want to make this vegetarian, but I’d add something else to bring out the flavor in the veggies, like a coconut-soy amino or liquid smoke (is that vegetarian? I don’t even know, but it’s an option). Using quality seasonal ingredients as the stars of your soup and pairing them with complementary aromatics (think onions, garlic, carrots and celery) just makes good sense. If it releases it’s fragrance more when heat is applied, it will add flavor, too. Just make sure you cut everything as equally-sized as you can so everything cooks at the same rate. In the same vein, don’t make your potato cubes tiny or they’ll disintegrate. Something I have inevitably learned the hard way over the years.
So yes, you could dump all the ingredients in at one time, but then what would happen? Things wouldn’t cook evenly if different textures, no depth of flavor would be achieved, no fat and beautiful town bits from the pancetta, and without sautéing the veggies and aromatics effort adding the liquid, the resulting soup would be raw and unseasoned. Doesn’t that sound yummy?
I didn’t think so.
As for what I do differently, there’s definitely reasons for each thing and I think it helps to briefly explain why. I don’t use cornmeal or flour to thicken this like you do with most soups. In this version I add potatoes which will release their starch as they cook, naturally acting as a thickener as well as adding texture.
With the potatoes, I don’t peel them first. Which is not the norm for this kind of recipe, but I do it for several reasons: it adds texture, boosts flavor, and the skin of the potato is chock-full of fiber, iron, potassium, vitamins B and C, and has more potassium than a banana! And since we all know I prefer a cupcake over a kale salad (who doesn’t?) this is a great way to boost your dietary intake without sacrificing flavor. Plus, you don’t have to painstakingly peel potatoes- meaning less prepping and more reward eating. I also use a combination of vegetable broth and chicken stock here because this again layers flavors and since there’s no chicken in this soup, it reinforces the corn and veggies in the ase, while the chicken stock adds a hearty and meaty undertone without screaming “Chicken Noodle Soup!!!”
Sorry to yell.
And lastly I like to steep the corn cobs themselves in the heating stock for 10-15 minutes to extract as much milky goodness from the cob as I can before discarding them. I learned this from Jeni Britton-Bauer, a local pastry chef who’s reinvented the process of making ice-cream for the home cook. And her book contained a recipe for a Sweet Corn Ice Cream With Black Raspberries. Which I immediately fell in love with upon making it, where she adds the corn cobs to the ice cream base to steep as she’s heating it. And the depth of flavor it gives the ice cream is HEAVENLY.
So without further ado, here it is: the perfect late-summer Corn Chowder recipe. Warming enough to make you feel almost ready for sweater weather, but bright and flavorful enough to keep you right here in the setting summer sun. What more could we ask for this time of the year?
Summer Corn and Potato Chowder
Time: 1 ½ Hours
Yield: 4-6 servings
1 quart/32 Fl. Oz. Chicken Stock
1 quart/32 Fl. Oz. Vegetable Stock
3 corn cobs, corn cut off (but keep the cobs!)
4 oz. pancetta, cubed
2 tsp olive oil
1 Tbsp butter
1 onion, diced
2 Potatoes, diced
2 Carrots, peeled and diced
2 celery stalks, diced
1 red bell pepper, diced
3 cloves of garlic, minced or put through a garlic press
2 tbsp kosher salt
1 tbsp pepper
2 tsp smoked paprika
1-4 oz. can green chilies
1 C. Half and Half
In a large pot over medium heat, warm up the veggie stock, chicken stock and leftover corn cobs (place corn kernels in a bowl and set aside) and let simmer for 10-15 minutes. Then remove the cobs and discard them, and turn off the heat.
While the stock and corn cobs steep, saute the pancetta in a Dutch oven crispy and browned, about 3-4 minutes, and then remove with a slotted spoon and place on a paper towel-lined plate. Set pancetta aside.
In the pancetta drippings, add the olive oil, butter, onions, carrots, celery, bell pepper, minced garlic and corn. Season with salt, pepper, and paprika and sauté until tender, about 7-8 minutes (or until potatoes are soft).
Add in the green chilies and pancetta (reserving some to garnish, if desired) and stir to combine.
Add in the warmed stock and the half and half. Taste for seasoning.
Bring to a boil and then simmer uncovered for 15 minutes.
Ladle into soup bowls and enjoy!