Corn, tomatoes, beans, and peppers: the quartet of summer, born in the Americas. None of these need much fussing with, and all four go very well together, in any number of permutations. Steamed green beans with halved cherry tomatoes and silvered red onion, drizzled with olive oil and a splash of balsamic vinegar. Corn salsa with chopped tomatoes, lime, and cilantro, served with black beans on a corn tortilla. Roasted peppers mixed with grilled corn next to sliced flat-iron steak. Fresh shelling beans–cannellini, borlotti, cranberry–tossed with corn and herbs for a sweet summer succotash, far away from winter’s bleak frozen-limas-and-canned-corn version. The seed-flecked juices of a fresh tomato salad soaking into an ear of plain boiled corn on the cob, with the insistent perfume of basil and perhaps a dab of garlicky mayonnaise somewhere close by.
My friend Jen McAllister used to write a charmingly delicious food blog, Prepare to Meet Your Bakerina, about her adventures, cooking and otherwise, in a bite-sized apartment in Astoria, Queens. By August, she and her husband, sunk in muggy late-summer torpor and farmers’ market overload, were perfectly satisfied with eating what they’d dubbed The Cornbread Thing several nights running. It’s a simple composition, but a winning one: a fresh corn relish/salsa, made of cooked corn, chopped tomato, a bit of sweet onion, lime juice, chili powder, salt, and olive oil, left to macerate overnight; a skillet-baked batch of cornbread; some Greek yogurt, plenty of cilantro. The cornbread is cut into wedges and split horizontally, then slathered with Greek yogurt, dolloped with corn relish, and ornamented with sprigs of cilantro. What more do you need?
Well, how about salmon? Local sockeye and king salmon is in its late-summery, coral-colored glory right now, and poaching a slab of fish is even easier than baking a pan of cornbread. I’m enamored of the “shallow poaching” method outlined in The Art of Simple Food by Alice Waters. No need for full submersion: fill a shallow saute pan with just enough liquid (half water, half white wine, or water with a splash of white-wine or champagne vinegar) to come half-way up your fish filets or steaks. Add a few sprigs of tarragon, parsley, thyme, whatever aromatic nice thing you have growing, plus a few thin slices of lemon or lime and a big pinch of salt. Bring to a boil, cut the heat to barely a simmer, and slip the fish into the liquid. Cook, without letting it boil, for about 3 to 4 minutes. Flip the fish over, and cook for another few minutes, until it’s just cooked through, and remove. For a nearly instant sauce, reduce the poaching liquid by half, then whisk in some cubes of cold butter. Remove the lemon and herbs, and voila! Beurre blanc without tears.
Or you can skip the buttery action and simply lavish your poached salmon, warm or chilled, with a slightly tweaked version of Jen’s corn relish, over a plateful of lightly steamed green beans or, even better, the wonderful purple-speckled dragon-tongue romano beans grown by Annabelle Lenderick at La Tercera Farm.
Recipe: Summer Corn Salsa
Summary: This easy salsa, adapted from a recipe on the blog Prepare to Meet Your Bakerina, makes a wonderful summer topping for poached or grilled fish.
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 5 minutes
Total time: 15 minutes
Yield: 4 cups
6 ears fresh corn, husked
2 tbsp pure chile powder
a pinch of ground cumin, optional
1 tbsp water
1/2 of a large sweet onion
1 jalapeno, seeded and diced
1 large tomato
1/2 tsp salt
1 tbsp olive oil
juice of 2 juicy limes
a handful of cilantro or basil leaves, stems removed
1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Drop in corn, bring back to a boil, then cover and turn off heat. Let stand for 4 minutes, then drain and let corn rest until cool enough to handle.
2. While corn is cooking, stir chile powder into lime juice, and let sit for a few minutes while you dice the tomato and onion. Cut corn off the cob and mix with chile, lime, tomatoes, onion, jalapeno, salt and olive oil. Taste for seasoning.
3. Salsa can be made several hours (or even a day) before serving. Taste and adjust seasoning as needed. Just before serving, add a small handful of roughly chopped cilantro or basil leaves.