Sweet Corn Ice Cream
I am corn. At least according to Michael Pollen’s Omnivore’s Dilemma, I am. And so are you. This makes the end of summer and early fall bittersweet. Everywhere you look at the Hollywood Farmers’ Market these days, weathered men are deftly hacking away at corn stalks with machetes, peeling back golden silks to reveal long checkerboard ears of bicolor, snowy white and flaxen-hued yellow corn, and stacking them into slightly ironic food pyramids made entirely of corn. Sure, this sweet corn is different than the industrial stuff that feeds our livestock or gets processed into high fructose corn syrup, cornstarch and Fritos. But if I already am corn, do I really need to eat more?
The answer to the question is a resounding yes! Avoiding fresh, in season corn to compensate for diets rich in processed foods is like not eating peak season tomatoes because you gorged yourself on Ragu all winter. Fresh corn is rich is thiamin (vitamin B1), panthothenic acid (vitamin B5), folate, dietary fiber, vitamin C, phosphorus and manganese. It supports the health of your heart and your lungs, improves memory and helps maintain energy. And its natural sweetness and perfect delivery system (corn on the cob, anyone) have made it a favorite for kids. Picking corn kernels out of your teeth is as essential to the American summer barbecue as hamburgers and hot dogs.
Buy corn with tight, green husks with plump kernels that run the length of the cob. And buy it as fresh as you can (thank you farmers’ markets). The natural sugars in starch immediately start converting to starch once it’s picked from the stalk, so use fresh corn quickly. And if you live near a corn maze like the maize maze in Petaluma that my college friends and I liked to drink and get lost in, you can “complete” the circle.
Fresh corn is remarkably versatile, too. Besides grilling it whole and slathering it with butter, you can cut the kernels off the stalk and mix with olive oil, grape and cherry heirloom tomatoes, basil, salt, pepper and bocconcini for an easy summer salad. Make corn pudding. Or tamales. Puree it into soup or dress it up with cream and bacon and call it chowder. Or make ice cream.
I’ve been on quite the ice cream kick this summer, ever since I bought the ice cream maker attachment to my Kitchen Aid. I’ve been experimenting with flavors, making more traditional ones like stratciatella (chocolate chip) and funkier ones like blackberry rosewater and ginger sorbet, ginger ice cream, lemon basil sorbet and grapefruit and epazote sorbet. Then, one night while I was contemplating whether or not horchata would make a better ice cream or sorbet flavor it occurred to me—corn, with its natural buttery sweetness and refreshing, milk-like quality, could be delicious.
Of course, I’m not the only person to ever think this. Apparently Cones, one of my favorite ice cream shops when I lived in New York City, makes a delicious sweet corn ice cream. Looking for recipes, I found articles about it in Apartment Therapy’s The Kitchn, Slashfood and Gourmet. Which is good, I think, because my boyfriend Neal thought the idea was a little out there. I finally settled on farm fresh impresario Dan Barber’s recipe from Gourmet. Smooth, creamy, a little green and tasting entirely like summer, the ice cream was incredible. It used both the kernel and the cob and I even found a way to work the husk into the presentation. Try it topped with blueberries for a tangy-sweet contrast, or sprinkle with raw kernels for textural contrast.
Plus, this won’t get stuck in your teeth.
Sweet Corn Ice Cream
recipe by Dan Barber, from Gourmet
3 ears of corn, kernels removed and cobs chopped into 1-inch pieces
1 quart whole milk
1 cup heavy cream
½ cup sugar
5 large egg yolks
Note: Taste your corn first. If it’s not as sweet as you’d like your ice cream, you may want to adjust the sugar.
Cook corn kernels and cobs with milk, cream and sugar over low heat in a medium-sized saucepan until the sugar has dissolved. Simmer, uncovered, one hour.
Remove from heat. Discard cobs. Puree corn mixture in blender until smooth.
Lightly beat egg yolks in a large bowl. Slowly whisk in a small amount of the hot corn mixture to temper the eggs. Return to the saucepan and cook over low heat until it reaches 170 degrees, being careful not to boil. The mixture will be slightly thick and coat the back of a wooden spoon.
Strain through a fine-meshed sieve into a metal bowl, pressing to get out as much liquid as you can. Discard the solids and refrigerate the custard for at least 6 hours. Freeze according to your ice cream maker’s directions.