Sunday, June 28, 2020

Corn, Kohlrabi & Pancetta Sauté

One morning last week I received a message from an old friend of my family’s.  Her husband had been trout fishing over the weekend and they had a lot of fresh trout.  She offered me some.  I had plans for the day…and meeting her would require driving a bit…but fresh trout!  My plans could be changed.

As I thought about cooking it I mentally ran through the list of vegetables in my pantry.  I always lean toward the classics, but classic trout preparations focus more on the preparation of the fish…not on the vegetables.  Usually the trout is quickly sautéed—just long enough to crisp the skin—then finished with salty and tangy/mildly acidic ingredients: browned butter with almonds…lemon and capers…bacon/pancetta, garlic and toasted breadcrumbs…and always including aromatic parsley.  Since the fish itself is pretty mild, I focused on the flavors at play in these traditional accompaniments as I considered my vegetables.

I like corn with fish of all kinds and I had recently purchased some of my first ears of the summer, so I thought I would start there.  The combo of pancetta, garlic and parsley from Madeleine Kamman’s trout dish from the Aveyron had initially appealed to me…and I knew these ingredients would go well with the corn.  

Pancetta, garlic and parsley also made me think of a kohlrabi-sauced pasta I had made for dinner a few days prior.  The kohlrabi in this dish is diced small—about the size of a kernel of corn.  And corn and kohlrabi are delicious together. Suddenly there it was…a simple sauté of corn, kohlrabi and pancetta (with garlic, spring onions and parsley).  I knew it would be delicious.

The corn I used in my dish had already been roasted.  I have been in the habit for several years now of keeping a container of roasted corn in the fridge all through summer corn season.  Having it on hand makes it easy to quickly prepare the roasted corn salads I love (with tomatoes…avocado…summer squash…shell beans and roasted peppers…).  But if you don’t have any roasted corn on hand…and you don’t feel like heating up your kitchen just to roast an ear of corn, you could just add the corn to the sauté in its raw state.  Add it with the spring onions. 

I have written the recipe as I made it:  for one person.  But it is easily multiplied for as many as you will be serving.   Simply choose a sauté pan that is just large enough to hold all the vegetables in a snug single layer. 

My trout dish really was delicious.  But you don’t have to have trout to make this corn and kohlrabi sauté.  A few days after I made it with the trout, I prepared it again (so I could write down the recipe), but I used halibut instead of trout.  I think any kind of mild fish would be great.  Simply sauté the fish and finish it with a generous squeeze of lemon after you remove it from the pan.  And even though I conceived of the recipe as an accompaniment to fish, if you don’t like fish I’m sure it would make a fine accompaniment for a pork chop…or even a pan seared chicken breast.  And if you have never tasted kohlrabi, this dish would be a great way to try it out.

Corn, Kohlrabi, & Pancetta Sauté

For each serving you will need:
1 t. butter
1/2 oz. pancetta, minced or diced
1 small kohlrabi, peeled and cut in a 1/4-inch dice—you’ll have about 1/2 cup or 2 oz.
Olive oil
1 small spring onion (or scallion), white and equal quantity of green, thinly sliced
1 clove green garlic (or a small clove regular garlic), minced
1/3 to 1/2 cup roasted corn kernels (about 2 oz.)—see notes
2 to 3 t. minced flat leaf parsley

Choose a sauté pan that is large enough to hold the corn and kohlrabi in a snug single layer.  Place the pan over moderate heat and add half of the butter.  When the butter has melted, add the pancetta.  When it has rendered and begun to turn golden (2 to 3 minutes), transfer it to a plate using a slotted spoon.   The pancetta should still be slightly soft and chewy (not crisp).

If the pan seems dry (there should be enough fat in the pan to coat the kohlrabi), add a little olive oil.  Add the kohlrabi to the pan along with a pinch of salt.  Let the kohlrabi sizzle gently, stirring occasionally, until it is mostly tender—perhaps five minutes or so.  Add the remaining butter along with the onions and garlic.  

Cook until the onions are beginning to soften and everything is fragrant—about 2 minutes.  If at this point the kohlrabi isn’t tender enough for your liking, add a splash of water and simmer gently until it is, replenishing the water as necessary.  You should not need to cook it too much longer.  When the kohlrabi is tender, allow the water to reduce/evaporate until the kohlrabi is once again gently sizzling in the fat.  Add the corn along with the cooked pancetta and heat through.  Toss in the parsley.  Taste and correct the seasoning with salt and freshly ground pepper.  Serve hot.

  • To roast corn, preheat the oven to 375° (or thereabout). Place the corn, in the husk, directly on the oven rack and bake for 20 minutes. Remove the corn from the oven. As soon as you are able to handle the corn, peel the husks and silks back so that the corn won't continue to cook. Cut the corn kernels away from the cob and enjoy...or use in a recipe. A typical ear of Midwestern summer corn yields about a cup of kernels.
  • If you don't have roasted corn on hand (I keep it on hand during the summer for salads, pilafs, etc.) and don't want to turn your oven on I'm sure you could use fresh corn kernels in this recipe. Add with the spring onions. You may need to add a bit more butter or olive oil to the pan.

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