It's the height of summer. The days are long, the heat is unwavering and we crave food that is simple to prepare and light on the palette. Very few people choose to spend hours 'slaving away' in the kitchen on a beautiful summer eve. The good news is that with a handful of fresh produce, a well-stocked pantry and a little thought, you can prepare a meal for family or friends that delivers great taste with very little cooking at all.
When planning weekly menus at this time of year, I take my cues from the farm stand. The local corn is just starting to roll in, and boy is it sweet and delish. The same can be said for the tomatoes: they are so flavorful and so good that you want to eat them right out of the box. This week the corn and tomatoes inspire me, and I recall a particular recipe from my obsessed-with-bobby-flay days. In fact, I learned a lot about cooking technique in the early 1990's from the Food Network's original line-up, when culinary programming was actually instructional. Bobby Flay taught me that a blender does more than just make smoothies; they are terrific for whipping up salad dressings, sauces and marinades too. Using a blender saves you time chopping herbs and aromatics – the machine does that for you, and mixes everything so nicely. Remember Throw Down! with Bobby Flay? I'm still hoping Mr. Flay will revive that show. I'm ready and waiting Mr. Flay...
At the market, I grab some corn, a pint of cherry tomatoes, a sweet Vidalia onion and a bunch of fresh basil. With these 4 ingredients, I'm armed and ready to pull together a lovely side dish in no time at all. This corn salad is particularly refreshing because it uses rice wine vinegar, which is milder and less acidic than other vinegar choices. Everything is raw in the salad, save the corn, which is just blanched for two minutes to bring out the flavor and cook out some of the starch. There are two important culinary details for corn salad success: First, the corn itself should to be seasonal & fresh. (You will never catch me eating corn out of season. Simply put: it just doesn't taste good.) Second, don't overcook the corn! It should be crisp and firm to the bite, al dente, rather than soft and mushy. Follow these guidelines whether you are boiling or grilling your corn.
I love to prepare this salad with the family. Kids of all ages can help husk the corn, cut the tomatoes, pick the basil leaves off the stems and measure/assemble the dressing ingredients. When I'm in the kitchen with my family, everyone gets a job, and even setting the tables counts. Perhaps this recipe will inspire you to stop by the farmer's market, pull out your cutting board, call in some helping hands and give it a try. You only need a few ingredients and a little bit of time to put some homemade summer goodness on the dinner table. Parting words from my kitchen to yours: learn, practice, taste and enjoy!
Sweet Corn Salad with Basil Dressing
Adapted from Bobby Flay
¼ rice wine vinegar
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
¼ cup chopped fresh basil leaves
1 tsp sugar
½ tsp kosher salt (plus more to taste)
¼ tsp freshly ground pepper (plus more to taste)
8 ears corn
½ sweet white onion, such as Vidalia, halved and thinly sliced (1 cup)
1 pint Sweet 100 or Cherry tomatoes, cut into bite size pieces (2 ½ cups)
8 ounces soft cheese, crumbled, such as Blue or Chevre (optional)
Fresh basil leaves for garnish (optional)
1. Fill a large pot with water and a few tablespoons of salt, and bring to a boil. Add the corn, turning to coat all the pieces in the hot water, and cook for no more than 2 minutes, just until kernels deepen in color and remain firm/crisp. Immediately remove from the water, set aside on a plate and when cool enough to handle, remove the kernels with a knife.
2. Place the vinegar, oil, basil, sugar, salt, and pepper in a blender and mix until smooth.
3. Combine the corn kernels, cut tomatoes, and sliced onion in a large bowl. Add the dressing and toss to coat. Season with more salt and pepper to desired taste.
4. Top with crumbled cheese and basil leaves, if desired, and serve.
Salad can be made 1 day in advance and served cold, or at room temperature.
If you would like to grill the corn for additional flavor, you may! Just remember not to overcook it!