Starters

This has been a good season for corn, though the drought had initially stumped their growth. But as the season matures, the size of those cobs are bigger. Beyond eating it plain–boiled or grilled–slathered with butter, you can create the essence of corn flavor by putting it into the soup pot.

Corn at the Portland Farmer's Market

Corn at the Portland Farmer’s Market

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At last Saturday’s farmer’s market on North Haven, there was a wealth of produce, meats and cheese to stock up on.  There was also a table filled with home-baked pies and cakes; but since I was extensively doing my own baking, I didn’t choose any of those luscious looking desserts even though they were all very tempting, especially the chocolate cream pie (center).

Standout vendors at the market included a selection of pies; Sheep Meadow's wonderful honey and lamb and display of yogurt and flowers from Turner Farm

Standout goodies at the market included a selection of pies, Sheep Meadow’s wonderful honey and lamb and display of yogurt and flowers from Turner Farm  

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Asparagus is tricking into our markets now and my favorite recipe for them  is an  elegant soup puree. Especially with fresh-picked local asparagus, the flavor is more intense than the store-bought variety. In Maine the season for asparagus is very short, though if we continue to have a cool spring, it will prolong the season somewhat.

Local asparagus

Local asparagus

An asparagus soup puree is a fairly simple dish to make and only requires a few ingredients. The one that I offer here was inspired by Chef Daniel Boulud’s rendition that I had many years ago in his first New York restaurant, Daniel.

I came across the actual recipe in his 1993 book, “Cooking with Daniel Boulud.” I’ve adapted it here for home use.

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All those local winter carrots that you see piled up at farmers markets are still packed with flavor.  They are part of the group that farmers call storage crops, such as potatoes and onions, and those five pound bags are a pretty good deal.  I tend to buy them loose from the box so I can mix up the colors of orange, red and various shades of yellow.

Carrots at the farmers market (Brunswick Winter Market and Portland Winter Market)

Carrots at the farmers market (Brunswick Winter Market and Portland Winter Market)

One of my favorite dishes using carrots is what I call winter carrot soup.  It can be served as an elegant first course or at any kind of dinner menu.     It only requires onions, carrots and a good stock.  It’s further enriched with heavy cream and has an unusual spice component of star anise, which gives it an exotic flavor.

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A Real Southern Cook in Her Savannah Kitchen by Dora Charles is a wonderful compendium of recipes from a cook who whose family history and professional background contribute to the quality of her recipes.   Her claim to fame is that she worked with Paula Dean, the TV cooking personality and author, at her original restaurant, The Lady and Sons, in Savannah for 22 years before going out on her own.

dora book

In fact, she helped Dean launch the restaurant and ultimately her career from the very beginning.  Lines formed out the door with diners  there for Charles’s cooking and such hallmark dishes as sweet potato pie, fried ribs, smothered pork chops, collards, corn bread and more done in her inimitable way.

My version of Dora Charles's berry cobbler with blueberries and strawberries

My version of Dora Charles’s berry cobbler with blueberries and strawberries

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Corn is at its peak now, and one of the great uses for it is to turn it into an elegant soup puree.  The process is so simple.   You take the kernels off the cob and put it into a large saucepot of sautéed onions.  Add chicken stock and simmer for about 30 minutes.  For extra flavor you can put the stripped cobs in with the soup while it simmers.  It’s then pureed in a blender and heavy cream is stirred in.  It’s served hot or chilled with snippets of chives and swirls of good extra-virgin olive oil.

Puree of local corn soup with chives and extra-virgin olive oil to garnish

Puree of local corn soup with chives and extra-virgin olive oil to garnish

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By all accounts it was a booming summer season in Maine with the state’s restaurants, hotels, waterways, mountains and coastal plains chock-a-block with the lolling tourist brigade.  I chose to end the summer’s calendar season over Labor Day weekend in the peaceful hamlets of North Haven Island where this coastal idyll didn’t escape the summer crowds basking in perfect weather.

Clockwise, Brown's Wharf, Ames point, picking corn at Foggy Meadows Farm, Main Street

Clockwise, Brown’s  Coal Wharf, Ames point, picking corn at Foggy Meadows Farm, Main Street

Pulpit Harbor was crammed with boaters, both local and summer residents.  The little village of North Haven was a bustle, too.  Of course all things being relative, you could still  hear a pin drop as the typical quiet of island life prevailed beautifully, with pristine weather–a balmy humidity-free 75 degrees.

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This may not be the last time I’ll serve dinner on the terrace with a meal cooked almost entirely on my fire-pit style barbecue with its smoking woods and hardwoods aglow, giving off the aromas of fruit woods and real charcoal. But it turned out to be the essential summer meal, a great backyard barbecue with a menu of stick-to-the-ribs goodness.

It was a perfect night for alfresco dining

It was a perfect night for alfresco dining

With drinks I served guacamole from a recipe I’ve made for years adapted from cookbook author Rick Bayless.

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Sometimes it’s the side dishes that are the most interesting as the sensual sidekicks to the main course. At this time of year tomatoes and corn are center stage and can be a great duo when served together as a side-dish pairing.

Baked summer pudding

Baked summer tomato  pudding

Two of my favorites are a baked tomato casserole and a corn dish. The tomatoes are baked with good crusty bread, akin to a tomato pudding.  And the corn is an interesting devise in which you cook fresh kernels off the cob in some butter and cream to soften then add steamed or boiled summer squash that’s mashed and added to the corn mixture to cook for a while longer until the two become even richer.  The corn helps to thicken the stew, something like an embellished creamed corn dish, with the squash added for texture and sweetness.

Velvet corn and squash

Velvet corn and squash

I made these two dishes last night while the evening was still steeped in a chilly rain.  The main course was pork chops served with an accompaniment of beets and carrots.  The meal offers a lot of vegetables, but at this time of year everything is at its prime.

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