What do you do with a head of wilted lettuce languishing in the fridge, half frozen because your German mini-fridge can’t seem to maintain any temperature between equatorial and arctic? Make a corn and vegetable chowder of course! After my not-so-positive experience eating baked lettuce in Bertinoro, Italy, I was a bit skeptical about the whole cooked lettuce idea, but decided that I’d give it one more try. After all, I trust Peter Berley, and this is one of the first recipes in his cookbook Modern Vegetarian Kitchen.
- 3 ears corn, kernels scraped, cobs reserved (use 2 if they’re very large)
- 2 cups peeled and diced new potatoes, about half a pound (I needed more, about 3/4 of a pound to get 2 cups)
- 1/2 cup of peeled and diced celery root
- 4 cups cold water or vegetable broth
- 2 Tbs. olive oil or unsalted butter
- 1 large sweet onion, diced
- salt and pepper
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 carrot, quartered and thinly sliced
- 1 pound diced tomatoes, with juice
- 1 small head tender lettuce, cut into ribbons
- 1/4 cup chopped basil
- In a medium-large saucepan over high heat, combine the corn cobs, potatoes, celery root and water, and bring to a boil. Turn the heat to low and simmer until the potatoes crush easily, about 30 minutes. Let cool.
- In a 4-quart saucepan over medium heat, warm the butter. Add the onion and a pinch of salt and saute for 5 to 7 minutes, until the onion is soft. Stir in the corn kernels, garlic, carrot, and tomatoes. Reduce the heat to low, cover, and cook for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are tender.
- Discard the corn cobs from the broth, then puree the remaining vegetables with a handheld blender. Add the puree to the other pot, and thin with water if necessary. Raise the heat to medium high and bring to a boil. Stir in the lettuce and basil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer for 2 minutes.
Yields 8 to 12 servings.
The original recipe called for celery, but I couldn’t find any at the market so I subbed in celery root. It also called for fresh tomatoes, peeled and seeded, but I didn’t have any at the time. I was also low on basil, so just threw in a few slivered leaves of Thai basil. The quantity of corn kernels obtained from 3 ears of corn was enormous. The soup was definitely dominated by the corn. I would not have known there were potatoes or celery root in the soup, but the puree added a base of flavor and a thick, stewlike quality that Derek really liked. He doesn’t normally care for soup, but he ate this one enthusiastically on at least 4 separate occasions (it made a lot of soup).
Although I was nervous about the cooked lettuce, I quite liked it in the soup. It had a silky quality similar to escarole, and a very mild green flavor. In the leftover soup, however, it got kind of stringy and unappealing, I thought. Derek didn’t seem to mind, but next time I might add the lettuce only in the portion to be served at each meal.
Although I liked this soup a lot the first day, I found the leftovers entirely unappealing, and not just because of the stringy lettuce. If I make it again, I’ll definitely cut the recipe down to make a smaller batch, and probably use fresh tomatoes, more basil, and less corn.
Derek commented: “This is the best vegetable soup I’ve ever had. Well, maybe not as good as at a super fancy gourmet restaurant, but definitely the best vegetable soup that you’ve ever made.”
Update August 2010: I made this soup again using 3 ears of corn, fresh tomatoes (unpeeled), unpeeled potatoes, and the full amount of regular basil. I didn’t salt the soup until the end though, and as a result I think the base of the soup was a bit bland. The salt just didn’t seem to infuse the soup properly. Also I couldn’t taste the celery root this time. I needed more I think. Other than that it tasted pretty similar to last time. It made about 3 quarts of soup. Derek, however, really disliked it. He said it tasted like canned soup. My two dinner guests both had seconds though.