The Beginning of Corn Season and a Corn, Mushroom & Caramelized Onion Strudel
The first corn of the season appeared at the Farmers' Market this past Saturday. The ears were very tiny (it has been an odd year, weather-wise), but they were juicy and sweet. As I purchased them, the farmer said apologetically that there were probably a few worms. I told him that was fine, I would just cut the ends off. (Okay, actually before I said that, I smiled and said that worms were just extra protein.) He looked relieved and said that he wished more people had that attitude. Apparently in the past he has had people tell him they "had to" throw away entire ears of corn because there was a worm in the end....
I didn't ask, but I'm guessing he doesn't spray chemicals on his corn to prevent worms. If I am given the choice, I would rather cut off a few worms than eat corn that has been sprayed with pesticides. But I imagine a worm or two gets through, even on sprayed corn. In any case, be assured that the portion of the ear that the worm has enjoyed can be cut away (along with the worm itself) and the rest of the ear safely eaten. Here is one of the beautiful ears that I brought home:
I love our Midwestern corn. Not only is it juicy and sweet, but as the season progresses the ears we get are large and plump. One ear will usually produce at least a cup of corn kernels, plus a tablespoon or two of milky corn "scrapings". I always have to laugh when I pick up a cookbook that tells me I need 2 ears of corn to get a cup of kernels. Clearly these authors has never experienced Kansas, Nebraska and Iowa corn.
The corn I buy at the market will find its way into pastas, risotto, polenta, salads, succotash, as well as other side dishes. During the height of summer, corn goes with beans (green and shell), tomatoes, peppers, potatoes, and summer squash. Since our season is long, I mix it with the last of the peas in early summer and the beginnings of the sweet potato and winter squash crop in the fall. No matter the season, it is good with cheese, onions, garlic, bacon, thyme, sage, rosemary, marjoram, oregano, basil, cilantro, parsley, chives, dill and cumin.. It compliments beef, pork, and chicken as well as many different kinds of fish and shellfish. It will probably make frequent appearances on my blog during the next few months.
Left off the list above, and in a special class by itself, is the combination of corn and mushrooms. Truly a match made in heaven, I serve it on potato gnocchi or pasta, in salads, and as a side dish or stuffing. When I came across a recipe for Corn & Caramelized Onion Strudel in Maria Helm Sinskey's The Vineyard Kitchen, it seemed to be begging for the addition of some nicely sautéed mushrooms.
One strudel can be served with a small salad as a first course. Also, since it can be made ahead and baked at the last minute, it works well for a summer dinner party:
Two strudels would make a nice entrée portion along with a more substantial summer salad—spinach with tomatoes and grilled, sliced Italian Sausage. I unfortunately didn't get a picture of the salad with the sausage, but it was quite tasty. Without the sausage, it made a satisfying lunch:
Sweet Corn, Mushroom & Caramelized Onion Strudel
4 large ears of corn, shucked 1 medium onion (8 oz.), cut in a 1/4-inch dice (1 1/2 c.)—use sweet summer onions if you can get them 4 T. olive oil, divided 1 T. butter, optional Salt & Pepper 1 1/2 t. minced fresh marjoram or 1 T. minced fresh thyme 2 small or 1 large clove garlic, minced 3/4 lb. crimini or button mushrooms, halved a thinly sliced 8 to 9 oz. Fontina cheese, coarsely grated (about 2 cups) 18 9x14-inch sheets defrosted phyllo dough—about half a box 6 to 8 T. butter, melted
Cut the corn kernels off of the cobs. You should have 4 cups corn. Set aside. Using the back of your knife or a large spoon, scrape the cobs to release any remaining corn pulp and/or milk; reserve separately. (In the picture, the cob at the top has been scraped and the one at the bottom has not. The "scrapings" from the top ear are between the two cobs.)
Heat a large sauté pan over medium high heat. When hot, add enough oil to coat the pan. Add the onions and sauté until tender and beginning to caramelize—about 5 minutes for sweet summer onions. Regulate the heat as necessary to keep the onions from burning.
When the onions are tender add the corn to the pan, adding some butter if the pan appears to be dry. Add a pinch of salt and continue to sauté until the corn is tender and just beginning to caramelize—2 to 3 minutes.
When the corn is tender, add the garlic, herbs and reserved corn "scrapings" and continue to sauté until the garlic is fragrant and the liquid from the corn "scrapings" has evaporated—about a minute. Remove from the heat, season with salt & pepper and cool.
While the corn and onions are cooking, heat another sauté pan (preferably non-stick) over medium high to high heat. When the pan is hot, add enough oil to coat the pan. Add the mushrooms and sauté until tender and browned. Season with salt and pepper and set aside to cool.
In a large bowl, combine the corn and onions, mushrooms and cheese. Taste and correct the seasoning with salt & pepper.
To form the strudel: Lay a piece of plastic wrap on the counter. Lay the stack of phyllo on top of the plastic and cover with another sheet of plastic, lightly pressing the edges to seal. It is important as you work with the phyllo that you keep it covered at all times. It dries out very quickly and is impossible to work with once it dries out. Some people cover the phyllo with a damp towel instead of plastic wrap, but I think this makes the phyllo soggy.
Lay one sheet of phyllo on your work surface with the long side parallel to the edge of the counter. Brush the sheet lightly with butter (don't overdo it or the strudels will be greasy instead of crisp and light). Place another sheet of phyllo on top of the first. Brush lightly with more butter. Repeat with one more sheet of phyllo for a total of 3 layers.
Using a pizza wheel or a sharp knife, cut the phyllo lengthwise in half into two 9- by 7-inch rectangles. Place 1/2 cup of cooled filling (1/12 of the recipe) in at the end of each if the rectangles of phyllo nearest the edge of the counter, leaving a 1 inch border at the end and sides free of any filling. Starting at the end closest to you, fold the edge of the phyllo over the filling and begin to roll the strudel away from you, forming a slightly flattened roll. Half way up the sheets (after the filling has been completely covered by the phyllo), fold the edges of the phyllo in and continue to roll.
Place the strudel seam-side down on a parchment-lined baking sheet and brush lightly with butter. Repeat with the remaining phyllo and filling. You will have 12 small strudels.
Just before baking use a sharp knife to cut 3 or 4 diagonal slashes in each strudel so that they won't blow open in the oven. Bake in a 400° oven until golden and crisp and the filling is bubbling—about 20 minutes.
Cool slightly before serving. Serve one per person with a small salad as a first course. Serve 2 per person as a light entrée.