There is no shortage of corn here in central Illinois. Fields of it run along the highways and border the strip malls, car dealerships, and housing developments (including ours). My guess is that the biggest fields are growing Big Ag corn, but there are a few farmers around Springfield who harvest their crop for hungry locals. In fact, a dusty farmer straight from central casting sold me a dozen ears of his “peaches and cream” corn last week. He told me it was the sweetest corn I’d ever eat. He wasn’t lying. The kernels were so juicy and sugary that I knew they’d be perfect for sweet corn “polenta,” a puree that’s made of superstar fresh corn.
Traditional polenta made from cornmeal doesn’t taste like this “polenta,” which is simply corn kernels, water, butter, salt, and pepper. The dish is similar to creamed corn in that it’s creamy and irresistible, but the texture here is smoother and the creaminess comes from the corn, not milk. The kernels are cut from the cob, cooked, pureed, and cooked again until the mixture is thick and bubbling. The finished product is a perfect base for a summery ragout (like ratatouille or this eggplant sauce) or as a side for any grilled main dish.
As I was enjoying spoon after spoon of this polenta, I was having very deep thoughts like, “I really love corn. I love it that Ed loves corn, too. I’m so happy the corn here is so good. I should blog more about corn.” Turns out, Jessica and I actually blog quite a bit about corn. If you also love corn and are a little tired of eating it on the cob, check out some of these recipes to get your fix:
sweet corn polenta
adapted from Yotam Ottolenghi via Food52
I highly recommend checking out this recipe on Food52–they provide some very helpful technique photos that are instructive for getting the texture right.
Keep in mind that very fresh corn will likely have a lot of natural liquid after it’s pureed, so you might not need to add any water to the pan after you puree the corn. If you add too much water, it can take up to 45 minutes to cook down to the right consistency.
The original recipe calls for feta as well as butter. I’ve found that when corn is at its peak, cheese covers up too much of the pure flavor. By contrast, there was at least one time when I made this with some ho-hum corn and a little feta saved the day. If you’re not sure about your corn, try a raw kernel. If it’s bland, get your cheese ready (a bit less than a cup should do) and stir it in when you add the butter.
6 ears of sweet corn, shucked and cleaned
3 tablespoons butter
1/2 teaspoon salt
Slice kernels from corn cobs. Place kernels in a medium saucepan and add water to just cover kernels. Cook at a low simmer for 12 minutes.
Using a slotted spoon, transfer cooked kernels to a food processor. Drain the corn cooking liquid into a separate container and set aside. Process corn for a few minutes, adding a few splashes of the corn cooking water if the corn is particularly dry. The goal is to get the corn very smooth and to break down the kernel case as much as possible (in my experience, the puree is never 100% smooth, and that’s okay).
Pour the corn puree back into the medium saucepan. If the puree is dry and paste-like, add some of the corn cooking liquid to the pot (starting at about a 1/4 cup). Add more water as needed. If the corn is fluid, there is no need to add any water. Cook the corn puree over low heat for 10 to 15 minutes, stirring frequently. The mixture might bubble and splatter as it cooks down. Once the mixture is similar in consistency to mashed potatoes or traditional polenta, stir in the butter, salt, and pepper. Cook for another two minutes.