Monday, September 10, 2012

Farmer's Market Chowder

The transition from summer to fall can be bittersweet, but the vegetables make it better. 

Does that sound funny?

Not when you cook up a big, steamy pot of heart-warming vegetable chowder.  Savory and slightly spicy from the fresh cayenne, it's just right for the cooler nights.

Our friends with gardens keep bringing us tomatoes, corn, green beans and zucchini, because they can’t eat, freeze or can them fast enough.  We're like kids in a candy store at the farmer's market, walking home with market bags filled to overflowing.  And the sunflowers are gorgeous, too.

This weekend, a friend brought us a huge bag filled with produce from her garden, and I turned it into this chowder.

You can completely modify this recipe and make it your own.  Here are a few ideas:  Substitute different vegetables.  Instead of olive oil, cook a few slices of good-quality local bacon and use 1 tablespoon of the rendered bacon fat for the chowder.  Add chicken and it becomes chicken and vegetable chowder.  Add shrimp or clams or halibut for a seafood chowder (that would be delicious).  Turn it from chowder to soup by leaving out the milk.  Substitute coconut milk for cow’s milk and water for chicken stock add some lemongrass for a Thai-inspired vegan soup.  The options are endless.

Here is the recipe.  We hope this eases the transition to autumn's shorter days and brisk mornings.

Farmer’s Market Chowder

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 onion, diced
Pinch of salt
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
2 carrots, diced
2 stalks celery, diced
1 fresh cayenne pepper, diced or a pinch of dried chile flakes
2 small or 1 large sweet red peppers, diced
3 – 4 sprigs thyme
1 sprig rosemary
1 fresh bay leaf
1 zucchini, diced
1 waxy potato (skin left on), diced
2 ears corn
4 cups chicken stock, vegetable stock or water
2 cups whole milk
Freshly ground black pepper

Heat a large, heavy bottomed pot over medium heat and add onion and a pinch of salt.  Cook until onion is translucent.  Add garlic, carrots, celery, cayenne pepper and sweet red peppers.  Continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables begin to soften.

Tie together the thyme and rosemary with kitchen twine (to make it easier to get out of the pot later) and add to vegetables, along with the bay leaf. 

Add zucchini and potato to the pot.  Cut the kernels of the corn and add to the pot, along with the cob.  The cob will simmer in the soup and give it extra flavor and body.

Add chicken or vegetable stock.  Bring soup up to a boil and then reduce to a simmer.  Taste for seasoning and add salt, if needed.  Let cook about 20 minutes, or until potatoes are tender.  Add whole milk and cook another 5 minutes or so, until soup is warmed through.  If you substitute skim milk for the whole milk the soup might curdle if you accidentally turn the heat up to high.  It will still taste fine, but just won’t look as pretty.  Season with freshly ground black pepper, to taste.

Serve with a wedge of corn bread or whole wheat crusty loaf and enjoy, preferably with someone you love.

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