I must admit that appreciating the joys of sweetcorn is actually quite new for me. To be honest, I always found it a little bland and I was probably guilty of treating it almost with disdain as if it were somehow a second-class, inferior ingredient. It didn’t help when uninspired chefs would constantly use baby sweetcorn as a garnish for practically every main course because they thought it somehow looked cool or tinned sweetcorn would be tossed into a mixed salad. Luckily those days seem to be over and I’ve also learnt to cherish the merits of this amazingly sweet, crisp golden vegetable.
Although we may actually call it a vegetable, it is, technically speaking, a grass. It is harvested young and as a result, the sugar content in the kernels is much higher than it is in other varieties of maize, which are harvested at a much later stage, once they are dry, and eaten as a grain. The average corncob has 800 kernels, all lined up in 16 neat rows, and each of those kernels is a seed in its own right. It’s also highly nutritious and gluten free.
Whole sweetcorn is simply delicious steamed or better still, barbecued and served with a little melted butter, but it also marries well with chicken (especially corn-fed birds). Its natural sweetness also brings out the best in scallops, prawns and crabs and it is perfect for tasty purees and delightful soups. Classically sweetcorn also lends itself to strong flavours like chilli, coriander and lime; think bold Mexican salsas and spicy tuna salads.
Sweetcorn should be cooked in boiling water with a little sugar but not salt, which can make the kernels tough. After cooking, season the cobs with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Serve with lots of melted butter. Alternatively, cut the kernels straight off the cob and get inspired!
Spicy sweetcorn soup with chilli and pancetta
Ingredients serves 4
450g sweetcorn kernels
1 onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1 large potato, peeled & diced
2 tbsp olive oil
1 small green chilli, deseeded & chopped
2tsp Mexican spice mix
1 litre fresh chicken stock
75g pancetta slices
Cream, to serve (optional)
Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan and add the onions, garlic & chilli. Cook gently for 2-3 minutes or until just softened. Add the Mexican spice mix, sweetcorn & potatoes. Cover with the stock and bring to the boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook for 20 minutes. Meanwhile, cut the pancetta into pieces and fry until crisp. Remove to kitchen paper to soak up excess fat.
Remove the soup from the heat and blend to a smooth puree. Season to taste, pass through a fine sieve and then ladle into bowls. Scatter with the crispy pancetta and a drizzle of cream. Serve immediately.
Sweetcorn, tuna & basil Rigatoni
Ingredients serves 4
500g rigatoni pasta
2tbsp olive oil
40g plain flour
200g grated cheese (gruyere or cheddar)
50g grated Parmesan cheese
300g tinned sweetcorn, drained
300g tinned tuna, drained
5-6 basil leaves, torn
Heat oven to 180C/fan 160C/gas 4.
Boil the rigatoni pasta for 8 minutes or until al dente.
Heat the olive oil in a saucepan over a gentle heat and stir in the flour. Cook for 1 minute, and then gradually stir in the milk to make a thick white sauce. Remove from the heat and stir in the grated cheddar cheese.
Drain the pasta, mix with the white sauce, tuna, sweetcorn and basil leaves, then season with salt and pepper. Transfer to a baking dish and top with the grated Parmesan cheese. Bake for 15 minutes until the cheese on top is golden brown. Serve immediately.
Marc Fosh – Michelin Star Chef