The four Cs

JAN BILTON
Last updated 05:00 04/03/2011
Corn
JAN BILTON
Seasonal offering: Corn and courgette muffins in husks.

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Today's taste sensations are brought to you by the letter C. It's the time of year when households should be taking advantage of some seasonal treats.

Corn, cucumbers, courgettes and carrots are seasonal treats that add colour, vitality and variety to meals.

Corn, or sweetcorn, should be bought as fresh as possible and used as soon as possible to enjoy its unique flavour and tenderness. As corn ages, it loses its goodness and becomes starchy and tasteless.

Fresh, raw, juicy sweetcorn kernels are delicious in salads. Choose cobs with grassy-green, tender husks. The silk should be dry but not brittle.

Store the unhusked cobs of sweetcorn in a plastic bag in the refrigerator.

Evidence of cultivated corn dates back more than 5000 years. Scientists believe corn originated in Peru and was cultivated over the generations by selecting plants that grew the greatest number of kernels on a single ear.

Cucumbers have been cultivated for at least 3000 years. They originated in the foothills of the Himalayas and eventually found their way to Egypt. They were subsequently highly valued by the Romans and Greeks.

Cool cucumbers are delicious in side dishes with Indian curries. They also make an excellent salad combined with diced watermelon, chopped mint and a little red onion. Or diagonally cut into thick slices and pan-fried in butter.

Courgettes originated in the Mediterranean, where they were popular long before they became a staple in Western cuisine. Courgettes are called zucchini in Italy and Australia.

Those growing their own will usually have enough of the prolific courgettes to pick while they are still tiny and have their flowers attached. The latter are great stuffed with ricotta, herbs and garlic, given a light dipping in a thin batter, then deep-fried.

Carrots are native to Afghanistan and early varieties were purple. It wasn't until the 17th century that the orange carrot was developed in the Netherlands. Carrots grow most of the year and this is the time to plant carrot seed for your early winter crop. If purchasing, choose medium-sized, smooth-skinned, brightly coloured carrots. Large, thick carrots tend to be tough and have less flavour.

CORN AND COURGETTE MUFFINS IN HUSKS

About 8 corn husks – the leaves that directly cover the corn kernels – are required to hold the batter. Use paper cases if the husks are not available.

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1 cup each: fresh whole kernel corn, grated courgette, shredded tasty or cheddar cheese

1 cup flour

1 1/2 tsp baking powder

salt and white pepper to taste

1/2 cup canola oil

2 tsp sugar

2 large eggs

1 tsp smoked paprika

Choose 8 corn husks free from blemishes. Trim the ends if required. Wash well and place in a bowl. Pour boiling water over to soften. Drain and pat dry. Tear lengthwise into four-centimetre-wide strips. Preheat the oven to 190 degrees Celsius. Lightly grease eight or nine holes of a muffin pan or pans.

Place two or three strips of corn husk in each muffin hole at right angles to each other, crossing them at the base so the husks cover most of the sides of the holes.

Combine the corn, courgette and cheese in a large bowl. Sift in the flour, baking powder, salt and pepper, and mix.

Make a well in the centre. Lightly beat the oil, sugar and eggs. Pour into the well and stir just enough to moisten the dry ingredients. Fill each lined muffin hole with the mixture. Dust with the paprika.

Bake for about 20 minutes till cooked and golden. Serve warm or at room temperature. Freeze if required and reheat in the microwave.

MORROCAN-STYLE CARROT SALAD

500 grams of carrots

juice 1 large orange

1 clove garlic, crushed

2 Tbsp each: olive oil, lemon juice, chopped coriander

1 tsp each: ground cumin, honey, salt and black pepper to taste

pinch of cayenne pepper

Peel the carrots. Diagonally slice into five-millimetre thick ovals. Place in a medium-sized saucepan.

Reserve a tablespoon of the orange juice. Pour the remainder over the carrots. Add enough water to just cover. Simmer on low heat for 2-3 minutes or until crisp and tender. Drain and cool.

Whisk together the reserved orange juice, garlic, olive oil, lemon juice, chopped coriander, cumin, honey, salt, pepper and cayenne in a small mixing bowl.

Mix the cold carrots with the dressing and refrigerate till ready to serve. Serves six.

CUCUMBERS IN SOUR CREAM

Brine:

1 1/2 Tbsp salt

3 cups water

Salad:

3 medium-sized cucumbers

1/2 cup sour cream

2 Tbsp of cider vinegar

1 tsp of sugar

2 Tbsp chopped dill or fennel

salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Dissolve the salt in the water.

Peel the cucumbers and thinly slice. Layer in a medium-sized bowl. Add enough brine to just cover the cucumbers. Chill at least 30 minutes.

Drain and rinse. Drain again and pat dry. Place in a serving dish.

Blend the sour cream, vinegar, sugar and dill or fennel. Fold into the cucumbers. Season. Serves six.

VEGETARIAN SUMMER STRATA

8 slices wholemeal sandwich bread

1 cup whole kernel corn

1 medium courgette, sliced

1 small red pepper (capsicum,) thinly sliced

1 cup shredded tasty cheddar cheese

4 eggs

1 1/2 cups milk

1/2 tsp chilli flakes

salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Trim crusts from the bread. Cover the base and sides of a lightly greased 22-centimetre square baking dish. Spread the corn evenly over the bread. Arrange the courgette slices over the top, then the red pepper. Sprinkle with the cheese.

Lightly beat the eggs, milk and seasonings together. Pour over the cheese.

Cover and refrigerate for 2-4 hours to allow the bread to absorb the liquid and the flavours to develop. Preheat the oven to 190C.

Bake until lightly browned and puffed, about 30 minutes. Great served with a crisp green salad. Serves four.

Copyright Jan Bilton

- The Marlborough Express

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