Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Summer Fest 2010 - Corn and Squash Sauté inspired by Chez Panisse Café

This is my first time participating in Summer Fest, a cross-blogging celebration of summer’s glorious food and gardens, hosted by Margaret Roach of A Way to Garden and her collaborators, Todd and Diane at White on Rice Couple, Shauna Ahern the Gluten-Free Girl, and Food2

Each week there is a different theme and everyone is encouraged to submit a tip or recipe relating to it; this week we’re talking about corn.  Click here and visit some, if not all, the other blogs that have contributed.  I have a feeling you’ll leave inspired! 

The corn recipe that immediately came to my mind to share was one I made up after eating at Alice Waters’ Chez Panisse Cafe almost a decade ago.  It’s not her recipe, merely my best remembrance of a dish I had there, recreated in the spirit of this spectacular restaurant.

I first visited San Francisco in May of 2001.  My close friends, Drew and Mel, had moved there from NYC and I planned a ten-day trip to see them and explore the city.  I quickly found out San Fran is my kind of town and if I didn’t have a life in NYC, I’d be tempted to put down roots there.  The natural beauty of the land, abundant outdoor activities, low-key residents, and incredible farms and local food all add up to a very appealing way of life.

By the last day of my trip I had literally been everywhere and seen everything I had hoped to with one exception:  Chez Panisse.  Alice Waters’ championing of sustainable, local farms and insistence on cooking with fresh, seasonal ingredients was - and still is - an inspiration to me.  I was dying to eat at her restaurant and see if the hype was really warranted.  I hoped so.

Drew and Mel were at work and I hemmed and hawed over the idea of eating lunch at the Café by myself.  I decided it would be worse if I went all the way back to New York without having experienced it, hopped on the next BART to Berkeley and headed to 1517 Shattuck Avenue, home of Chez Panisse. 

To this day I still consider that lunch the most delicious meal I’ve ever had in any restaurant.  My selection of pizza with wild nettles and ricotta salata, baked local salmon with corn, squash, and basil, and Washington rhubarb crisp with mascarpone ice cream might not sound earth shattering, but when executed with the finest, freshest ingredients and with care and precision (not fussiness), it truly was.  Therein lies the magic of Chez Panisse. 

Corn and Squash Sauté
Inspired by Chez Panisse Café

This dish benefits enormously from being made with just picked corn and squash.  Many of you Summer Fest folks are lucky enough to have your own gardens to harvest veggies from.  If you’re like me and only have space to grow basil on your windowsill, head to the nearest farm stand and shop there.  I found Jersey corn and New York State squash at the Union Square Greenmarket.

This is an easy recipe to alter; sometimes I’ll add diced tomatoes or quartered cherry tomatoes.  Other times I’ll mince a shallot and sauté it with a pinch of red pepper flakes before adding the squash and corn.  It just depends on my mood and what’s on hand.

4 or 5 ears of corn, shucked and cut off the cob
1 medium green or yellow squash, diced
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 cup white wine or water
1/4 cup basil, torn
Salt and freshly ground white pepper, to taste
1 tablespoon unsalted butter

Heat 2 tablespoons butter in a large saute pan over medium-high heat.  Add squash and sauté 4 minutes.  Add corn, sauté 1 minute, then add wine/water.  Simmer until the liquid has disappeared, about 3 minutes.  The vegetables should retain their crunch – don’t let them get too soft!  Stir in 1 tablespoon butter and season with salt and pepper.   

Off heat, stir in basil.  Serve hot.

Serves 4 people

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