Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Italian Corn

Fig. 1 Despite the bad weather, Mario's new cookbook inspires the grill hound to get out there and try new things.

My wife is convinced that Italians have a way of making everything their own. She contends that it isn’t enough for our egos to bask in the fact that it took an Italian to figure out that the earth revolves around the sun, or that an Italian discovered the New World; or that we produce some of the best cars and clothing this world has ever seen. (I could go on and on, but I digress.) However, upon looking through my new Mario Batali cookbook, Mario Batali: Italian Grill, I’m starting to realize that maybe my wife has a point.
This very functional cookbook is typical no-nonsense Mario; full of great grilling advice and saturated with wonderful ingredients. But what got me to thinking about whether Italians have an issue with self-importance occurred when I came across Mario’s grilled corn on the cob recipe.

Fig. 2 One big heap o' corn in St. Philippe, just outside of Lachute. A beautiful part of driving through the small, scenic roads of Quebec during the summer is the abundance of local farmers selling their fruits and vegetables. Not to mention all of the hot dog and fry joints.

Quebecois love corn on the cob; even I don’t like to mess with a good thing. Boiled or grilled, slathered in rich butter and doused in salt; perfect! But Mario--a cook who advocates the simplicity of fresh ingredients-- theorises here that if you slather anything in parmigiano-reggiano cheese it will taste better. Normally I would be inclined to agree with Mario, but the local corn, like those I picked up just outside of Lachute from a corn farm, are perfect. Plump and very sweet as a result of all the rain we’ve been seeing.
That being said, far be it from me not to try anything once, or to doubt one of the greatest Italian inspired cooks of all time.
Here’s Mario’s corn recipe as seen in Mario Batali: Italian Grill.

Fig. 3 Grilled corn on the cob Mario's way.

Corn, as Italians would eat it.
Makes 6 ears.

6 ears corn, shucked
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 to 1 ½ cups freshly grated parmigiano-reggiano
About 2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint
Hot red pepper flakes

Preheat a gas grill or prepare a fire in a charcoal grill

Place the corn on the hottest part of the grill and cook for 3 minutes, or until grill marks appear on the first side. Roll each ear over a quarter turn and cook for 2 to 3 minutes, then repeat two more times.

Meanwhile, mix the oil and the vinegar on a large flat plate. Spread the parmigiano on another flat plate.

When the corn is cooked, roll each ear in the olive oil and vinegar mixture, shake off the extra liquid, and dredge in the parmigiano to coat lightly. Place on a platter, sprinkle with the mint and pepper flakes, and serve immediately.

My wife and I both agreed that while Mario’s version has its merits, the cheese and vinegar take away from the sweetness of the corn. I also find that the use of red pepper flakes in their whole form are useless because they don’t adhere properly to the corn. For a proper spicy flavour, use ground chili peppers, or, do what they do in Mexico and sprinkle the corn with cayenne pepper.

Fig. 4 If you're going to eat corn do it right. Forget spreading the butter with a knife, it doesn't work; the butter always melts off the corn. Instead, unwrap a fresh pound of butter and roll the hot corn on the block. Don't forget the salt.

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