When local corn is in season, I can dine on half a dozen ears, steamed or in their husk, with the warm, earth-spice smell of the vine still clinging to them. For me, fresh corn needs nothing more than a light sprinkling of salt and pepper to taste heavenly.

Even on cold, rainy summer days, along with a craving for hot soup, I still want my ration of fresh corn. To have both at once, I used to make corn chowder. Full of cream and studded with diced potatoes and crumbled bacon, it was a disaster of saturated fat and cholesterol, so I tried translating it into a healthy version. Eventually, I lost count of the failed attempts. After years of eating the old, familiar version, no revision could satisfy me. Each attempt was too thin, too bland, or required too much effort.

The bowl of soup that finally pleased me, and won praise from everyone who loved the original chowder, was completely unexpected. It was also a reminder that however creative the cook, we are always building on recipes that came before.

For the newly slim and irresistible soup, I was inspired first by a recipe that called for simmering fresh corn shucked straight into the soup along with the cobs. This enriched its flavor nicely. Then, I took the suggestion of a colleague to create a thick, rich texture by pureing potatoes in a blender. Finally, I surrendered to the current trend for naming dishes by description rather than by classic definition.

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Bisque, for example, is a smooth, rich soup usually made with cream, but in todays culinary terms, its texture is more key than the cream. Accepting this freed me to enjoy this thick, golden soup filled with corn kernels. For optimum taste, use the sweetest, best corn of the seasons local crop.

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Summer Corn Bisque

Yield: 4 servings

Ingredients

  • 4 ears fresh corn
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • 1 medium yellow-flesh potato, peeled and cut in 1/2-inch cubes
  • 4 cups cold water
  • 1/2-3/4 cup evaporated milk, preferably low-fat
  • Pinch of cayenne pepper
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tsp. sugar (optional)
  • 1/4 cup chopped scallion, green part only
  • 12-16 medium shrimp, cooked and shelled (optional)

Directions

  1. On a chopping board, cut off the corn kernels from each cob and transfer to a medium Dutch oven or deep saucepan. Scrape cobs with the back of the knife to extract milk and remaining corn bits, and add to the pot. Add the scraped cobs to the pot. Add the onion, potatoes and water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover and boil gently until vegetables are tender, about 15 minutes. Remove cobs and discard. Strain soup into bowl, reserving cooked vegetables; there should be about 4 cups of broth. Take out 1/2 cup of the vegetables and reserve.
  2. In a blender, pure remaining vegetables with 2 cups of broth (about half) until mixture is creamy and smooth. Return pure to the pot. Mix in 1/2 to 3/4 cup evaporated milk, depending on thickness of pure. Reheat until hot. Season to taste with cayenne, salt and pepper. If the sweet taste of fresh corn seems weak, add up to 1 teaspoon sugar, if desired.
  3. Divide chowder among 4 bowls. Garnish each with reserved corn and scallions. If desired, garnish soup with cooked, shelled shrimp. Serve. Refrigerate or freeze remaining corn broth to use in making vegetable soup.

Per serving:
152 calories,
2 g. total fat (less than 1 g. saturated fat),
27 g. carbohydrate,
9 g. protein,
3 g. dietary fiber,
76 mg. sodium.


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