Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Sweet Corn and Tomato Salad

            “You’ve got to learn your instrument. Then you practice, practice, practice.
             And then, when you finally get up there on the bandstand, forget all that and just wail.”
                        -Charlie Parker

Recipes, like musical compositions, begin life as improvisations. Sometimes they work, or sometimes it’s a matter of rearranging the notes in another way. They are refined with work over time and then eventually written down so that someone else can follow the instructions whether it’s at a piano or the piano in the kitchen, the stove. The “reproduction” of these instructions depends on one’s abilities, one’s technique. When technique and understanding of what you are doing, the “practice, practice, practice” part, becomes internalized you don’t actually “forget all that,” it just doesn’t get in the way any longer, and you can “wail,” well, perhaps in the kitchen at least.
This recipe, like many others, was improvised. I wanted to use summer’s sweet corn and tomatoes as a salad, but how? Corn and tomato both like basil, all right, add that. And they sing with a little bacon thrown in, like a variation of a BLT. But how to bind it together? A vinaigrette is too thin. A ranch-style dressing would do the trick, the mayonnaise in the dressing again hinting at the BLT flavors.
And the "composition" came together.
I urge you to make the ranch dressing and avoid the bottle. I would guess that once you see how easy it is, you too will abandon the bottle, if you haven’t already, and leave behind the dehydrated ingredients and seaweed-derived thickeners—read the ingredients list and see what’s in it that’s not an actual salad dressing ingredient. It doesn’t make it bad, just unnecessary. And if the bottled kind you buy doesn’t come from the refrigerated section of your supermarket, it not fresh at all. Besides, when you make your own dressing, you can alter it and change it to suit your taste. Can’t do that with the bottle.
I chose to use cherry tomatoes. They are abundant this time of year, are super sweet and appear in endless varieties at a farmers market. Of course, you can omit the bacon, if you have to. A friend of ours calls bacon the “gateway” meat often snuck by vegetarians (don’t look away in guilt).

Sweet Corn and Tomato Salad
For 3 to 4 servings, even though my red-haired food co-pilot and I end up polishing this off by our selves. It’s easy to adapt and expand.

3 ears corn
1 cup assorted cherry tomatoes, halved
4 slices crisp bacon
8 to 10 fresh basil leaves
1. If you are using bacon, cook the bacon until crisp and set it aside to drain on paper towels.
2. Shuck and clean the corn. Slice the corn from the cob; stand the corn upright in a bowl and slice down the length of the ear. The corn falls into the bowl and not all over the counter.
Place a sauté pan with ½ cup lightly salted water onto the stove and bring it to a boil. Add the corn and cook the kernels for a minute or two. Drain the corn into a colander; do not rinse. Spread the corn out to cool on a baking tray lined with paper towels. When the corn is cool, transfer it to a bowl to chill completely in the refrigerator.
3. To assemble the salad, place the chilled corn and halved tomatoes into a bowl. Crumble the bacon and tear the basil leaves into the bowl. Mix the salad with enough of the dressing to bind, about half the amount of dressing you made. Serve. It’s summer again.

Ranch Dressing
This is very basic, kept so because of the other flavors in the salad. If you want to make this for everyday use, you might want to consider adding some fresh chopped herbs, such as chives, thyme, or parsley to the basic dressing. It can be modified and flavored to make whatever kind of “ranch style” dressing you’d like it to be. This version is a little thick for salads so you might want to thin it with more buttermilk or milk if you plan to use it as an everyday salad dressing. Its history is recent, in the history of what we eat, dating from the mid 1950’s and popularized at the Hidden Valley Ranch, dude.

½ cup buttermilk
½ cup mayonnaise
1 Tablespoon minced shallot
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1 teaspoon red wine vinegar
salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
1. Ready? Take all of the ingredients and whisk them together in a bowl until combined. Taste and adjust for salt and pepper. Transfer the dressing to a container and store in the refrigerator until needed. Now why haven’t you made this from scratch before?

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