It was September and we had lots of white corn left over from a big barbecue. It wasn't the best corn. We boiled it and ate it with butter -- a marginal improvement. I cut the rest off the cob for soup. Feeling guilty about wasting bits on the cob, I hit on a solution. Simmer the cobs in milk! Perfect: the corn softened and expanded, releasing its flavor to the milk without the stringy bits. Then we salted and sucked on the milk-drenched cobs. I make this soup, or something quite like it, all year, with frozen corn and fresh. Other nice garnishes are minced chives or parsley and crème fraîche. This makes 2 quarts or 8 cups -- a scant 8 servings; add milk, cream, or stock to thin it or to serve more.
1. If you're using fresh corn, cut the kernels off the cob into a bowl, reserving any liquid. For more flavor, simmer the stripped cobs in the milk. If you're using frozen corn, defrost and drain the kernels.
2. Dice the onion.
3. In a large pot, heat the butter and/or olive oil and sauté the onion until it's quite soft.
4. Add the corn to the onion and sauté until it's just soft.
5. Add the milk, cider, and salt to the onions and corn. Cook until it simmers. Do not boil.
6. Whiz it all in the food processor and season with cayenne to taste. If the soup is too thick, thin it with more milk or (optional) cream or (optional) stock to taste.
7. Dribble a pepper sauce on the soup or serve it on the side.
Sweet Pepper Sauce
Slice a sweet red pepper and sauté it in olive oil until very soft. Whiz in the food processor until it is completely smooth.
Hot Pepper Oil
Dice and gently sauté a hot red pepper in olive oil until it's soft but not brown. Let it sit in the oil for at least 1 hour. Strain. You can also whiz a raw hot pepper to make a nice thick orange oil. The flavor will be quite different.
Copyright ©2014 Nina Planck The Real Food Cookbook: Traditional Dishes for Modern Cooks by Nina Planck. Reprinted by permission of Bloomsbury USA.
Darra Goldstein is editor in chief of The Oxford Companion to Sugar and Sweets, an 888-page reference guide to all things sweet. "The book is really a compendium of human desires, a cultural history of desire for things that are sweet and what it has caused in the world, in both the realm of pleasure and also of pain," she says.