Kathy Slack on how to get the best from sweetcorn
When it came to cooking sweetcorn, one fastidious farmer would countenance no other way but this: “Set a pan of salted water on the hob to boil. Meanwhile,” he said, “dash into the kitchen garden, pluck a cob from the corn stem, strip the husk as you scurry back, casting the debris in your wake, plunge the cob into the now boiling water, then catch your breath for four minutes, before slathering it with homemade butter.” Hardly a feasible option for most. But his point, I think, was that freshness matters when it comes to sweetcorn and in that respect, I agree. A fresh corn cob is plump, sweet and juicy—unlike the severed, disrobed stumps you find in some supermarkets: tough, mealy and far from fresh.
A good corn on the cob, boiled and buttered, is the definition of a simple pleasure. Chiselled off the cob, sweetcorn kernels bring texture and sweetness wherever they go: creamy soups and chowders; fat pancakes topped with a poached egg and avocado; mixed into salads for colour and a retro feel (salad cream optional).
If you want to put sweetcorn centre stage, then cornbread—which uses both fresh corn and cornmeal (polenta)—is an ideal choice. American southerners, whose cuisine is founded on corn, know a thing or two about cornbread, so I hesitate to adapt a classic. But I have added cheese, chilli and spring onions for further interest and served it alongside a spicy tomato salsa.
Olive oil, for greasing
8 spring onions, chopped
200g sweetcorn kernels
325g quick cook polenta
250ml full fat milk
4 eggs, beaten
100g plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
175g cheddar cheese, grated, plus extra for topping
1 green chilli, finely chopped
¼ tsp chipotle chilli flakes
For the salsa:
500g tomatoes, a mix of varieties if possible
1 tsp finely chopped green chilli
½ tsp finely chopped red chilli
½ red onion, finely chopped
3 tbsp finely chopped coriander
1 garlic clove, crushed
1 tbsp olive oil
½ lime, juiced
A dash of Tabasco
Heat the oven to 200C. Grease a 22cm cake tin or skillet with olive oil and line the base with a circle of greaseproof paper.
Melt the butter in a frying pan over a medium heat. Once the butter is foaming, add the spring onions and sweat them in the butter for 2 mins. Add the sweetcorn and a pinch of salt and cook for another 2 mins. Remove from the heat and set aside to cool.
In a large bowl, mix together the polenta, milk, eggs, flour and baking powder. Add the grated cheese, green chilli, chilli flakes, the onion and sweetcorn mixture, a big pinch of salt and stir again.
Spoon the mix into the tin and bake for 20 mins. Sprinkle a handful more grated cheese on top, then return to the oven for another 10 mins or until the bread is spongy to touch.
While the cornbread bakes, make the salsa. De-seed and chop the tomatoes. Tip them into a bowl then mix in the other ingredients and a pinch of salt. Leave for a few mins to allow the flavours to mingle, then check the seasoning and serve.
Recipe and images: Kathy Slack