7.28.2010

The "Other" Chowder

I think that one of the best things that any city, town or region has to offer is its farmers' market.  The market in Tucson is very similar to those we have experienced in Tuscany and Provence - it is a feast of purveyors who move from day to day to different plazas in the region.  In a city of one million such as Tucson, all these sites are "in the city," while in Europe they are in small towns across the region.  In either case, they are often one-half to one hour apart, to ensure that all areas are served. 

And, whether you are in Europe, South America or the Southwestern United States, the best things about any market are the vendors unique to that market, that region.  Our Tucson market boasts:
• a fascinating woman from Bolivia who has studied folk medicine around the world, shares her knowledge to help others and makes the most incredible vegetarian and chicken salteñas, as well as her locally-inspired tamales,
• a stall that sells items from Native Seeds | S•E•A•R•C•H, a local organization with a mission to conserve, distribute and document the adapted and diverse varieties of agricultural seeds from the Southwest,
The Desert Oasis Soap Company that produces perfectly scented soaps, as well as gourmet dog treats,
• a tent from which one can purchase tomatoes raised in the UA College of Agriculture and Life Sciences by students learning about hydroponics and hybridizing,
• a woman who makes amazing tortillas from mesquite, amaranth and wheat flours,
• a chile roaster, roasting poblanos, Anaheims, jalapeños, and all variety of bell peppers, and
• a knife and scissor sharpener - and who would not need this? - who is still seeking his princess (seriously, he has a sign right next to his sharpening wheel saying "Still seeking my princess...")

When we go to the market in St. Philip's Plaza on Sunday mornings we are in heaven.  And the best part about it?  It is year-round!  That was always the saddest thing for us in New England - the end of the market season as autumn took its grip.  Here, we are enriched with a never-ending supply of produce that is in season.  Sure, there are times of year when the pickings are slim but, at this time, there are so many things in season that I find it hard not to buy way too much.  We went today for tomatoes and corn and came back with them plus melons, apricots, peaches, eggplant, sunflowers, arugula, dried strawberries and a lemongrass plant.



Corn, like tomatoes, has a short season here.  Its sweetness is addictive and can be used in so many ways - roasted, steamed, boiled, sautéed.  Today I made chowder.  Chowdah.  (You can take the boy out of New England but not New England out of the boy.)  I did look up some history on chowder knowing that I should have something to say about it to you.  Oddly, many sites ignored the corn chowder and only spoke of seafood and fish chowders from New England, Manhattan, Rhode Island, Long Island and some places in the south.  One source claims it comes from the Latin calderia, which works with any ingredient, but another states it was derived from jowter, an old English word for fish monger.  To me, chowder is a basic recipe to which you add what is in your larder.  Why not chicken?  Why not butternut squash?  But today, I am making corn chowder and homemade French bread to go with it.  And the best part?  The corn was picked fresh this morning.

One final note about chowders: I am adamant that New England-style chowders should not be thick.  The combination of milk and cream makes for a wonderful silkiness.  Although often served thick and starchy, they should never be thickened with a roux or flour as this causes them to lose this delicate texture.

My recipe for corn chowder (once again, thanks to Mom!) starts the way many chowders do - with bacon fried, for the final garnish but also for the fat in which to sauté the onions.  Did I mention that this recipe gets the Surgeon General's seal of approval?  I probably didn't.  And for good reason.  (I linked to the site not because I am a government-lover but because I didn't know till today that our SG is a woman!  How cool is that?  But I digress...)  After the bacon, comes the cream.  That's good and healthy, right?  Somewhere in the middle are the corn and potatoes, the "meat" of this chowder.  A creamy chowder is a simple and hearty dish and it takes only a few minutes to put one together.  While not a health food, it is (for me) a mental health food... a comfort food.  Please enjoy!

– David
Corn chowder

4 thick slices bacon, cut into 1-inch pieces
    (uncured bacon is better without the nitrates!)
1 large sweet onion, chopped
1/2 pound Yukon gold potatoes, cut into 1/4-inch dice
3 ears of corn, kernels removed and cobs discarded
1 1/2 cups water
2 cups milk
1/2 cup cream
salt and pepper to taste

In a soup kettle, sauté the bacon over medium heat until crisp.  Drain on paper towels and reserve for garnish.  Reserve 2 tablespoons bacon fat in the kettle and sauté onions until translucent - about 10 minutes.  Add potatoes and water and simmer for 15 minutes until potatoes are crisp-tender.  Add corn, milk and cream and cook and additional 10 minutes, or until corn is tender.  Season with salt and pepper and serve piping hot garnished with reserved bacon.  Serves 4, and recipe can be doubled.

4 comments:

  1. Hi David and Doreen (and Mark, too!), We collected all the ingredients for the corn chowda -- it sounded so good and looked so scrumptious that we simply HAD to make it – and, then, I went back to your blog today to review the recipe and found the peach and raspberry tart recipe!! Since we have several pounds of very fresh, sweet, juicy peaches – shipped to us from Georgia – and they are shouting out to be eaten, we’ve added this dessert to our menu tonight, too! Wish we had the home-made French bread! (We’ll have to settle for Beach Pea’s—if Win and Claire have any left at South Street and Vine!) Keep up the inspiring pieces – we love reading them! All the best, Susan and Towny

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  2. Hi, Susan and Towny! The peaches have been amazing this year - and the apricots, too. Makes me think we need to run right down to the market and check to see if they are still coming in. Enjoy the corn chowder - it's so funny to have dish that is quintessentially winter fare that can only be made in the summer with fresh corn! Have fun and let us know how the recipes come out! David & Doreen

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  3. Hi back David and Doreen, The corn chowder was theee best we have ever had...so good that we are making it again, per our daughter's request before she goes overseas! We post-poned the tart on account of the heat in the kitchen--we will report back after we bake that! All the best, Susan and Towny

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  4. Glad you liked the chowder - and Alex, too! Doreen promises to stop by and say hello next time she sees you out! You only live a block or two from one another - you MUST meet! David

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Thank you for taking the time to leave me a note - I really appreciate hearing from you and welcome any ideas you may have for future posts, too. Happy Cooking!

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