Monday, August 30, 2010

Sweet Summer Memories

The gift of a few ears of homegrown corn (above) from my sweet neighbor Susana sent me into a summer reverie.

It must have been when I was around four years old. My family lived in a forties-style ranch on a one block-long street of similar houses in Tigard, an early patch of development in what would become the suburban sprawl that quickly surrounded Portland in the 1960s and 70s.

At the back of the house, the edge of our neatly mowed, fenced green lawn bordered on a field of wildflowers where I'd wander and pick bouquets to bring to my mother. It would eventually become a parking lot for a giant strip mall, but to my four-year-old self it was a vast prairie, a place for catching and studying the birds and bugs that lived there or spending hours laying down the grass looking up at the clouds passing overhead.

Across the street in front of our house was another row of houses identical to ours, beyond which stretched another field, this one planted with row upon row of corn. All the kids on our street would play hide-and-seek in that field, losing each other in the sameness of the shadowy stalks that stretched into the sky, their tassels glowing in the evening light. During the late summer I'd often wander off into the field on my own and pick an ear or two, peeling back the green husk and nibbling the sweet raw corn that always tasted better than anything boiled and buttered, and only emerge when I heard my mother calling from the front porch to come in for dinner.

So when it's corn season and there's no field across the street to wander off into, I'll husk a few ears, scrape off the kernels and cook up a batch of corn stock from the cobs for a corn risotto that brings back, if only for a few moments, that sweet memory from my childhood.

Sweet Corn Risotto

1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 Tbsp. butter or margarine
1/2 yellow onion, chopped fine
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 c. arborio rice
2 c. corn kernels
5 c. corn stock
1/2 c. parmesan
Salt and pepper, to taste

To make corn stock, cut kernels off of five corn cobs. Put kernels in a bowl and set aside. Place cobs in large saucepan and cover with 5 cups water. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to simmer for 15 to 20 minutes. Remove cobs and strain stock through wire mesh sieve to remove any debris.

Melt butter and oil in 2 1/2-3 qt. heavy-bottomed sauce pan. Add onion and garlic and sauté over medium heat till translucent. Add rice and stir for about 30 seconds till grains are hot and coated with butter mixture. Add corn and combine. Stirring frequently, add stock one ladle-full at a time, allowing rice to absorb it before adding more. When rice is tender but still slightly al dente, stir in cheese. Add salt and pepper, adjusting to taste.

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