060: Corn, and Other Things Girls Want

Notice us, Substack colleague Padma Lakshmi!!!

(SB) Dear readers: the summer is (allegedly) over, at least one new year has sprung forth, and I am writing to you from a brand new borough. Candidly, it’s been a strange time to be experiencing a new beginning of sorts: things in the world feel uncertain at best (and let’s be honest, a little fraught most of the time) and I’ve been struck at how destabilized a little geographic shift has me feeling. Call me dramatic, but I feel like a stranger in a different land after so long basking in the splendor of Upper Manhattan, and I’m not yet sure how to set down my tendrils over here. I guess that, like many things, comes with time and not having most of your things in boxes. (JS: Walt Whitman found dead.) In the interim, I’m stubbornly repeating the advice of one Chani Nicholas to myself over and over: even healthy plants need to be repotted on occasion. I’ve also been taking a fair number of walks in Prospect Park and burning a lot of incense. It brings me joy to sometimes have a commute that goes over a bridge. I am wondering a lot about old dogs, new tricks, and just how much time I seem to need to adjust to new realities these days. Please let me know if you want to grasp at these last warm nights in the park I’m now proximate to.

It also feels like I’ve eaten so many meals since we last spoke:

  • The arrival of friend of the newsletter Eric meant that we had quite an occasion to sample the tastes of my new borough and we got to work in earnest with impossibly tender lamb from Yemen Cafe, much smoked fish from Shelsky’s, a classic chicken dinner at The Fly, and a truly memorable Hurricane Ida-infused meal at Mo’s Original.

  • Predictably, all that indulgence and, you know, the cost of moving means that I’ve been eating in and trying to use up my pantry staples quite a bit as well. Highlights have included a lot of smoked fish on crackers (we got rid of our toaster!), fried rice with some Chinese sausage, and an array of various beans. 

  • I finally made it over to the Malai storefront and had a corn and saffron experience so transcendently tasty to me that I rushed to recreate it for this week’s feature in pudding form. I am already plotting my return. 

(JS) Ever the contrarian, I’ll begin by noting there are in fact two weeks of summer left, and then wishing you all a happy and a healthy, if not expressly sweet, new year. It remains a weird time to celebrate much of anything – I hope you’ve been taking care of yourselves these past few weeks, or at the very least, adequately managing the trauma of the contemporary American experience. At the risk of being trite, I’ll suggest it’s a great time to gaze upon a body of water, perhaps with a fistful of crumbs, and think about your decisions – If there’s one thing this newsletter loves besides food, it’s over analysis, but with the constant onslaught of unprecedented crises these days, I find that a little ritualized repentance does wonders for ye olde existential dread. 

Like my co-editor, I’ve cooked quite a bit, and eaten even more since we last found ourselves in your inbox. A few hits include:

  • A play on Paula Wolfert’s pastitsatha, a baked pasta from the island of Corfu usually prepared with veal, but instead using leftover harissa lamb shoulder

  • Friend of the newsletter Becky Hughes’ vegan caesar for 80 (!), prepped semi-off the grid with boyfriend of the newsletter David for friend of the newsletter Nina’s pre-wedding dinner; we only broke one blender in the process and that’s really a small price to pay to be drunkenly identified as “the ones who made the salad” by at least 50 satisfied guests 

  • The most delightfully ‘90s huckleberry danish and “bacon slipper” (puffed pastry stuffed with pesto, tomato, a slice of candied bacon, and sprinkled with cheese) from Franny’s Cup and Saucer, the best (and only) bakery in Point Arena, California


GLD: Saffron-Scented Corn Pudding 

(SB) I knew that I’d be making Eric Kim’s recipe for sweet corn pudding the moment it crossed my iMessage threshold. As a Corn Superfan™, this simple pudding with corn-infused milk – reminiscent of majarete and other South American treats – seemed like the obvious choice for a comforting dish with which to say an unwilling goodbye to summer’s bounty. You know: all the flavor of a backyard barbecue, but eaten with a spoon on your couch while watching Never Have I Ever. (Side note: did anyone but Tinx have the summer they needed and wanted? I think not.) 

I began by placing four shucked corn cobs, a pinch of salt, and 10 to 15 saffron threads I found at the Industry City Cost Plus World Market in a pot, adding three cups of whole milk, and bringing the mixture to a brisk boil. Once things were bubbling, I lowered the temp and let things steep, gently simmering for about 30 minutes. I stirred often because I know milk to be fond of frothing and bubbling over (JS: Respectfully, this is very ESL phrasing and I’m here for it). I strongly suspect that this would be delicious (and vegan!!) if you used coconut milk instead of cow’s milk here. I removed the corn after a good steep, and investigated other uses: I devoured one cob, which was tender and delicious, and am contemplating broiling the kernels of another with some sugar as a topping per the recommendation of one NYT commenter.

On the tail end of the simmering process, combine sugar, cornstarch, and two egg yolks in a bowl. Add in a quarter cup of the warm corn milk and whisk into a slurry, then add this slurry back to the simmering pot of corn milk. Stir constantly until the mixture thickens into a pudding-like consistency — whisking vigorously can add too much air and make the pudding runny. I added a little splash of vanilla extract here instead of vanilla bean. It was delicious but I may let the saffron sing on its own in future iterations. You can serve this hot or chilled, and in the interest of science I have indeed already tried both. I can’t say I have a preference — they’re both delicious in their own ways.


TRASH TALK: Kasha Varnishkas Frittata

(JS) For a conservative Kosher household, my grandmother’s signature erev Rosh Hashanah spread skewed surprisingly WASPy: prime rib and yorkshire pudding were the main event, while more familiar Jewish staples (read: chopped liver) were relegated to cocktail noshing (emphasis on the cocktail). When my mother took over hosting duties for the high holidays, she kept up this new year’s eve goyische game until my sister and I were both in college, at which point we abandoned what’s technically a pre-holiday dinner to eat out, usually at I Sodi or Il Buco Alimentari – kosher who, they said? I offer this strange and not-quite-self-hating context to say it was with some surprise to learn of my mother’s abiding soft spot for kasha varnishkes, a classic chosen side that’s now shown up at the pandemic Rosh Hashanah table for two years running (may this be our last, with or without KV).

I’ll be the first to admit that Ashkenazi cuisine can sometimes veer firmly into “don’t knock it til you try it” territory, but kasha varnishkes are pretty inoffensive, guaranteed to at least intrigue if not necessarily please the plain plate of noodles with a little bit of butter set: noodles (varnishkes, traditionally bowties) and toasted buckwheat groats (kasha) are tossed with onions that have been deeply browned in butter (ok), schmaltz (yes), or margarine (it’s a no from me; for a pareve alternative I’d try olive oil). Some will add sauteed mushrooms to the mix or finish with fresh herbs – at the very least, I’d suggest a hearty grind of black pepper. It’s hard to argue with this mix of grains on grains, hearkening at once to the LES eateries of yore and the Dimes Square diet. (SB: Time is a flat circle.)

This year, my mom chose a certain self-proclaimed mensch’s recipe, a version that she found to be slightly better in theory than in practice and left us with a hefty amount of leftovers (all the while, I held my tongue about this same writer shilling for B*rthright). While most of our party clamored over the remaining slices of brisket and apple cake, I – arguably the true mensch of the evening – humbly packed up the kasha varnishkes and drove them back to Brooklyn, where I plotted a Jew-ish pasta frittata, inspired by the likes of Mark Bittman, David Leite, and Meghan Splawn

IMHO, the best frittata (“or is it tortilla?” he wondered, more than a year ago) are heavy on the filling, approaching eggs as binder rather than the star of the show. I heated my oven to 350° (in retrospect, too low) then raided my fridge, sauteeing some extra onions in butter and sorting through herbs that had been withering away, ultimately folding these into my leftover KV and four beaten eggs. I melted a couple tablespoons of butter in the same pan I’d used for the onions, then poured the whole mixture in and cooked it for a couple minutes over medium high heat until it started to set. I placed my frittata in the oven for just shy of fifteen minutes – next time, I’d crank it to at least 375 or 400 and start checking at ten. I’m partial to a room temp or even cold frittata, when the flavors of the filling are more pronounced. This was great on its own, but if you’re craving a little extra dairy, a dollop of sour cream wouldn’t hurt.


BEST LAID PANS: Pizza Beans 

We pride ourselves on our vulnerability in this newsletter, sharing our triumphs alongside the occasional misfire. That’s certainly the spirit of our latest feature, where we’ll chronicle creations borne of frugality, depression-tinged sloth, and/or best laid plans run awry.

(SB) It would be disingenuous to describe working my way through the hefty stash of Rancho Gordo products I’ve accumulated over the last year as “eating beans.” But, however you’d characterize it, I have indeed endeavored to offset some of my moving related expenses by adopting a newly virtuous attitude towards pantry staples and my deep bench of legumes.

This week, I felt particularly called towards a packet of royal coronas from my collection. Inspired in part by the spaghetti al limone I didn’t order at Dino during Eric’s visit, I set upon my beans with visions of sumptuous citrus swirling in my head. I soaked the coronas for a good eight hours, and then got them started in a big pot with a halved onion, some vegetable broth, a little lemon peel and a whole lot of garlic. During their final minutes of cooking, I browned several more cloves of garlic in a hearty amount of olive oil in a separate pan, and added a couple of tablespoons of lemon zest. The beans went in once they were soft, with a healthy splash of starchy water and a nice helping of parmesan. I finished with black pepper and prepared to dig in. Unfortunately, dear reader, I was naive: the lemon rind had added a bitter tinge to my coronas and I couldn’t help but long for something sweet to balance things out. Still barking up a pasta al limone tree, I added a splash of milk, and simmered for a while before accepting defeat and heading to bed after sampling a few more beans. 

The next day, I resumed with a renewed sense of humility and turned to the well established queen of weeknight cooking for guidance in the form of Pizza Beans, an appealingly familiar preparation that banked on the universal allure of tomatoes and mozz. Emboldened by the Bean Club Newsletter’s own riff on these, I first made a lazy version of the Marcella Hazan tomato sauce (subbing olive oil for butter and simmering for about 45 minutes) before adding in my beans. I topped the mixture with hunks of mozzarella that I tore from the sphere with my hands, and simply covered the pan until it melted. The combination proved to be a winner: deeply cheesy on a few different levels, and a testament to the adaptability of these hearty coronas (JS: There’s a delta variant joke in there). 


PERMANENT ROTATION: Besides the obvious seasonal bake?


WISH LIST

(SB) Mona has been upstate while we moved house, and I miss her terribly. So much so that I’m considering becoming one of those people who has cat themed merch. I’m particularly covetous of this Wandering Cat Print dress from Lune, which is inspired by some Goan strays just unhinged enough to match my energy. 

(JS) Friend of the newsletter April and I recently enjoyed this funky dark orange number from Domaine de l’Octavin in the Jura over a long and boozy lunch. A remarkably compelling somm likened it to “leather hot pants,” cajoling us with tales of Alice Bouvot’s concerts for her biodynamically farmed grapes.

(SB & JS) Feeling absolutely helpless in the face of our ever intensifying struggle for reproductive rights in this hellfire country? A small act you might consider is signing or helping to distribute this amicus brief featuring the stories of people who have exercised their constitutional right to abortion. Interested individuals who have had abortions and are willing to sign onto this brief with their name and state of residence, are encouraged to click here.  

Happy belated birthday Beyonce 🥰 Follow us on Instagram for a little something to tide you over between issues, and send us your questions, food-adjacent or not so much, at askdigestivo@gmail.com