Thursday, June 5, 2008

Call of the Corn

There are some foods that cannot be disassociated with certain seasons and certain events. Corn on the cob, for example, will forever remind me of summer. Growing up in Maryland, cookouts meant more than burgers and hot dogs. Living 15 minutes from the nation's capital--home of the power steak, where deals are signed at Sam & Harry's over a couple of Porterhouse--inevitably led to firing up Fred Flintstone sized t-bones at home as well. Side dishes usually included some kind of typical potato or macaroni salad, which seemed exotic and very American to my Spanish family. But nothing was more reminiscent of summer and the area in which I grew up than a crabfest.

When I was a kid and all through my teenage years, you couldn't drive 5 miles in my town without hitting a crabshack, which was often the ground floor of an old single family home. Someone (usually the owner of the house) would sell you perfectly cooked and Old Bay seasoned Maryland blue crabs by the bagful. The beautifully crimson and piping hot crabs were stuffed into brown paper grocery bags and usually topped with a handful of corn on the cob, a special side dish treat that didn't come with the bushels of live crabs down at the wharf. By the time we'd get home, each corn cob was smothered with butter and flecked with spicy Old Bay seasoning. Corn on the cob will forever be a summertime treat that reminds me of every crab cookout we had (which was, of course, always preceded with Old Bay spiced shrimp).

So it is that every year I force myself to wait until summer to sample any corn on the cob. I try to show some restraint in restaurants as well, but that has more to do with unruly kernels getting stuck in my teeth. Since we've hit June (which happens to be prime crab season) and my mom is away for the week, I decided to finally indulge and make some corn, right on the cob. Last summer I became obsessed with Mexican style corn, where in addition to slathering the cob with butter, it's topped with queso blanco (a soft white cheese) and sprinkled with cayenne pepper and other spices. I've had difficulty finding queso blanco recently, so I decided to substitute some ricotta salata, and it tasted great. The saltiness of the cheese is a lovely contrast to the sweet, plump corn kernels, and the cayenne and chili powder I used brought a nice bit of smoke and heat to the party. I'd definitely recommend shredding the cheese and topping the corn while it's still piping hot. Eating this dish is a messy sport, but it's well worth it. Here's how to do it:

Spicy Corn On The Cob With Ricotta Salata

4 cobs of corn
1/2 cup ricotta salata, shredded
4 Tbsp butter
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1/4 tsp chili powder

1. Cook corn in a large pot of salted boiling water until cooked through, or grill until done.

2. While still piping hot, slather corn with butter and top with cheese. Top with spices and serve while hot. Enjoy!


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