RECIPE: ROASTED CORN SOUP WITH ROCKET PESTO

I CAME UP WITH THIS WHILE ON A WORKING VACATION AT A COTTAGE LAST WEEK. The leftover ROCKET pesto you can use like any other pesto, e.g. for pastas, salads, etc. -JRS

To become a better cook, it helps to think of recipes not as sets of rules, but as lessons. Good recipes help you learn knowledge and techniques, and you can apply these to other situations, changing recipes to suit your tastes, for example, or doing without them altogether.

This post, for instance, is a recipe for roasted corn soup, but it’s really a method for making a puréed soup of any vegetable. I’ve done the same thing with asparagus, bell peppers, sweet potato, squash, etc. The formula goes as follows:

  1. Cook vegetables over low heat
  2. Add cooking liquid (in this case, water), let simmer
  3. Puree
  4. Sieve
  5. Season
  6. Serve

That’s about it. Enjoy.

ROASTED CORN SOUP WITH ROCKET PESTO

pREP: CORN SOUP

You’ll need about a dozen ears or so of corn. It’s better when the corn is in season—and also cheaper: I think I paid about $3 for twelve.

ROASTING THE CORN

Pull the stems and the hairy tops off the ears of corn, leaving the husks intact. If you are using an outdoor fire, roast the corn in the embers, several at a time, until they’re slightly blackened. Two or three minutes is plenty, but pay attention so that they don’t burn too much. This step is about adding flavour from the smoke and the fire, not cooking the corn completely.

Corn, roasting.

When all the ears have been roasted, wrap the corn in tin foil (in bundles of three or four) and return to the heat. The corn will continue to cook by way of steaming, without browning any further. Turn them every minute or so, for about five minutes. Remove from heat and let cool.

You can also roast the corn over a BBQ grill or under the broiler in your oven. Alternatively, you could skip the roasting process altogether and just cook the soup without the added smoky/toasted flavour.

When the corn is cool enough to handle, pull off all the husks and stringy bits. Using a knife, cut all the kernels from the ears of corn.

Corn, roasted.

MAKING THE SOUP

Get a soup pot ready. Gather the following:

– 1 small onion (or half a medium onion), thinly sliced
– 1 clove of garlic, sliced
– Salt
– Olive oil (or another oil—if you cook oil-free, you can omit*)
– White wine vinegar (or another acid, e.g. balsamic, red wine vinegar, lime)
– Water, about 4 cups

Put the pot on the burner and set it to medium heat. Add 2 or so tablespoons of oil, along with the onions, garlic, and corn. Season with a pinch of salt. Cook for 4 or 5 minutes. stirring regularly. You want to soften the onions and garlic, but not brown them. Note: This is basically the start of any vegetable soup; you cook the ingredients before adding the cooking liquid; this removes water content (which concentrates the flavour) and brings out the sweetness in the vegetables.

Next, add the 4 cups of water. Raise the heat and bring to a boil, then lower and let simmer for 15 minutes. While waiting, taste the cooking liquid now and then to see how it’s developing; the broth should end up with a pronounced and sweet corn flavour.

Remove the pot from the heat and blend in small batches. Sieve through a strainer for a finer texture, if you like.

Still life, in motion.

Return the strained soup to the pot and put it back on the stove. If the texture is too thick, thin it out a bit with some water.

Now you’re going to check and adjust the seasoning. Add about a teaspoon of the vinegar. Stir and taste: Does it need more acid? More salt? If so, add a little at a time, tasting immediately afterwards. (If you want a sweeter soup, you can add some sugar or maple syrup.)

When the soup is to your liking, set aside and prepare the pesto.

ROCKET PESTO

I’ve started using this recently as a garnish for soups; it’s really great. The strong flavours of the pesto (raw garlic, bitter rocket) tone down in the hot soup and create a bright contrast. I use walnuts instead of pine nuts (never having pine nuts on hand) and pass on the parmesan; it works fine without the cheese and cuts the cost. It’s also vegan-friendly.

Add the following to a blender or food processor:

– About 2 or 3 handfuls of rocket (arugula), maybe 3 cups
– 4 tablespoons of olive oil
– 2 cloves of garlic, peeled
– ¼ cup walnuts
– A bunch of chives, if you have ( and/or other fresh herbs, e.g. basil, parsley)
– 1 teaspoon or so of acid (e.g. white/red wine vinegar, balsamic, lemon)
– A bit of salt and pepper

Blend or process until you’ve got a fairly smooth paste. You may need to adjust the consistency by adding a  more arugula or oil.

Taste and adjust the seasoning (i.e. salt, pepper and acid) as necessary. The flavours should be very strong and bright.

SERVE

Heat the soup and ladle into bowls. Garnish with about a tablespoon of the pesto. Add a drizzle of oil and some chopped herbs and ground black pepper if you like.

*P.S.

Tip for oil-free, vegan cooking: Add some soft tofu (maybe ¼ of a package) before blending to get a cremier final product without the oil.