Friday, August 22, 2008

Fancy Corn Chowder and Homemade Sourdough

I read somewhere that you can recognize novice cooks because they overspice everything. ...Yeah, that would be me. And here I was wondering why I seem to do so much better with heavy autumn and winter dishes. Delicate herbal accents, unembellished purity of produce, not so much. More of a heavy, complicated stew kind of girl, myself.

That unwillingness to let natural bounty shine unadulterated came back and bit me in the arse with this soup. In my defense, the official name doesn't sound delicate ("Chilled Corn and Sun-dried Tomato Chowder with Goat Cheese-Chive Croutons"), and the recipe is as complicated as an Indian curry and as pretentious as one of St. Julia's gems. Which was exactly what I was looking for, with time on my hands and an itch to reestablish my alpha-dominance over the kitchen. A nice, elaborate recipe to conquer.

(Side note: the fridge still works, but Sears mucked up our dishwasher order. Delivery got pushed back from Wednesday to Saturday. sigh).

The recipe comes from SF-based Chronicle Book Publishers' The Wine Lover's Cookbook. A dear friend gave Do the book two Christmases ago to feed his wine pairing fetish. (The year before that, she gave us our copy of Silver Palate... a very dear friend. Whom I just learned is a regular reader of this blog. :) Hi MM!). The cookbook has breathtakingly beautiful photographs. The recipes are erudite and stimulating, along the lines of Gourmet or Food&Wine. The type that surprise you as you scan the ingredient lists, and generate visions of very special events at expensive restaurants. The only disappointments so far have been the few "mainstream" dishes (everyone already has a favorite version of penne with sausage and mushrooms, for example), while the erudite recipes are truly the stuff of fantasies. Or, my fantasies at least.

Really, the recipe would not have been that complicated... but why buy a sourdough baguette when I've got a neglected sourdough starter waiting in the fridge? Why spend an hour in the kitchen if you can spend twelve? I should mention that this heroic starter was a spawn of my father's, and has been very mistreated since it left his custody. Refrigerated only in the evenings during our cross-country road trip, ignored during move-in week, and then abandoned in a defective fridge while we went on vacation. When I finally fed it just before leaving, it scornfully burped starter all over the inside of the fridge. No hard feelings, it was entitled to a fit of displeasure.

It took a day's worth of coaxing, but the results were spectacular. The bread is dense, the crust is almost French, and the flavor is complex. Really, really impressive. Do consider trying this at home, either by stopping by my place to pick up some of my starter, or purchasing your own King Arthur Sourdough Starter (where my father got his). If you're brave and/or cheap and what to create your own sourdough starter, then power to you. I tried last spring and ended up with a soggy mess... but maybe I'll pawn some blame off on the quality of D.C. airborne yeast.

Anyways, the soup itself was very fancy and delicate, and it would have been exquisite if I hadn't botched it by overspicing it. The tarragon-corn combination (which, Mr. Goldstein insists, pairs wonderfully with a buttery American Chardonnay) is insightful, the sun-dried tomatoes are elegant, and the goat cheese croutons were our favorite part (credit goes to my amazing, heroic starter, whom I love very much. pet, pet.). Unfortunately, I got overenthusiastic with the tarragon and the result was somewhat overwhelming. Good, but overwhelming.

Conclusion: a potential gem for buttery Chardonnay pairings, a fancy summer dish (didn't have one for the repertoire), worth repeating if only to discover what it tastes like when I follow the instructions.

Now I've got to figure out what to do with all this leftover Tarragon. Which I'm not sure I like all that much.

Chilled Corn and Sun-dried Tomato Chowder with Goat Cheese-Chive Croutons
Serves 6

4 ears yellow sweet corn
1 1/2 Tbs olive oil
2 cups chopped sweet onions (Maui, Vidalia, or Walla Walla)
1 Tbs chopped fresh tarragon (no more)
1 tsp ground cumin
1/4 tsp ground turmeric
1 1/2 tsp minced lemon zest, separated
1 32oz carton of chicken stock
3/4 cup white wine
2 garlic cloves
3/4 Tbs fresh lemon juice
1 cup fresh sour cream
3/4 cup sun dried tomato halves (packed in oil, drained, and chopped)
Salt and Pepper
4 oz fresh goat cheese
1 Tbs minced chives
1 sourdough baguette, cut on the diagonal into twelve 1/4" slices
  1. Set the oven to 350 degrees. Set garlic cloves on an aluminum sheet, drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Cover in aluminum foil, leaving a hole for air to escape. Roast for 45 min.
  2. Meanwhile, remove the husks from the corn and, using a serrated knife, remove the corn from the cob by scraping down the cob. Reserve the cobs.
  3. In a large soup pot, heat olive oil. Add onions, tarragon, cumin, turmeric, and 1 tsp lemon zest and sauté for 8min. Add corn, reserverd corn cobs, stock, and wine and bring to a full rolling boil. Reduce heat and simmer, covered, for 12 min. Removed cobs with tongs and discard.
  4. Once the garlic is roasted and cool enough to handle, squeeze roasted garlic out of the skin. Add roasted garlic, lemon juice, and sour cream to the soup. Using an immersion blender, purée the soup. Add the sun-dried tomatoes and rough chop. Stir thoroughly and season to taste. If you prefer a cold soup, refrigerate it for 3 hours.
  5. Mix goat cheese, chives, and 1/2 tsp lemon zest. Refrigerate until needed.
  6. When ready to serve, spread goat cheese mixture onto sourdough slices. Put under broiler for 5 min, until goat cheese starts to color slightly. Divide soup in bowls, place two croutons in each bowl, and garnish with chopped tarragon.


Joelen said...

This looks wonderful and such a great way to use the season's sweet corn!

Adam said...

You are making me look very forward to Fall. This would be perfect for a nice chill day. And you are so right... why spend one hour in the kitchen, when you can live there? :)

So you guys are wine kids too? A good Chard is a tough drink to top in my opinion :)

Johanna said...

looks delicious - I am also guilty of overseasoning - I was trying to justify it to myself that it helped me to recognise the tastes of seasonings but then I realised there is a danger of only being overwhelmed by them and never touching them again - I can't say I know tarragon enough to give you any advice but I would happily emulate your sourdough prowess if I could

noble pig said...

Wow, that bread looks like it could float away. It's huge, or at least the picture is. Beautiful.

Psychgrad said...

Whaa - I just put too much salt in a dish. I HATE when that happens. I hope I can mix it with something else to even out the seasoning.

I like the soup. I'm all for eating foods that can be sopped up by homemade bread.

SaintTigerlily said...

I know this sounds nuts and a bit dim probably, but I hold in saint-like regard anyone who bakes bread and knows stuff about yeast and rising and... bread stuff.

SO wowed by that beautiful bread.

Please. Teach me.

That Girl said...

I don't know if I buy that overspicing business. I think a lot of novice cooks are spice shy.

Holler said...

U enjoyed your starter story and the chowder looks great! I probably overseason too! I love the taste of freshly grated black pepper!

kittie said...

I've often found new cooks to be shy of seasoning and spice! But then again - I do like my food strongly flavoured, so maybe it's just that ;)

I would love a sourdough starter - but too scared to try one from scratch!

Susan said...

It's hard to kill a starter once it' The boules came out really first rate, and the chowder is sophisticated. Sure you're only a novice?