Easy does it

There’s no sufferin’ over this simple succotash recipe

BY WOLFGANG PUCK
TRIBUNE CONTENT AGENCY

Cooking with the seasons has become a big catchphrase these days. And it’s easy to understand why. When you plan meals around what’s freshest in the farmers’ market, you almost always ensure that the food you put on your table will have the best flavor and texture while also offering the most nutritional benefits — and all at the greatest savings.

To get the freshest taste, cut the kernels straight from shucked ears of corn.
(Dreamstime.com)

Many people think of cooking with the seasons, though, as if those words also promise endless variety, as if each trip to the market will reveal wonderful new produce to bring fresh excitement to your meals. And, yes, often that does happen, as new items gradually come into season.

More often, however, in the midst of any given season, each new visit to the farmers’ market is just as likely to present you with the same ingredients over and over again. That can, of course, excite your imagination, encouraging you to look for new ways to cook the same ingredients. Just as often, however, it can make you wish for a perfect “go-to” recipe, something easy that you simply won’t grow tired of no matter how many times you prepare it.

That’s how I feel about succotash, the old-fashioned summertime vegetable mixture whose name comes from “boiled corn kernels” in the language of the Narragansett tribe, whose lands became part of Rhode Island. In colonial days, settlers began using that term to describe mixtures of cooked corn with other summer/early autumn vegetables. The dish’s popularity has endured to this day, despite any negative connotations from the often repeated, exasperated exclamation of Sylvester the Cat in the old Looney Tunes cartoons: “Sufferin’ succotash!”

Succotash is, in fact, a recipe not likely to cause you much suffering. It starts with fresh ears of corn, from which you cut the raw kernels off the cob with the help of a sharp knife and a slip-resistant cutting board. Then you saute the corn and combine it with equal-sized pieces of other summer vegetables such as zucchini and bell pepper, plus onion, garlic, celery, fresh herbs and spices.

It’s an incredible, simple dish to make, and one you and your family aren’t likely to tire of, especially since you can switch up the recipe with other vegetables such as lima beans or yellow summer squash, hot chiles and different herbs or spices.

Serve your succotash as a side for grilled or roasted food; or treat it as a sort of chunky sauce, presenting the main dish on top of it. It’s even fun to toss the succotash with freshly cooked pasta for a vegetarian main dish. You may be surprised by how often you wind up cooking it — without a moment of sufferin’!

SUMMER VEGETABLE SUCCOTASH
Serves 4

3 large ears white or yellow sweet corn, shucked, all corn silk removed
1 1/2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 medium zucchini, cut into 1/4-inch (6-mm) dice
2 celery stalks, darker green leafy ends trimmed, cut into 1/4-inch (6-mm) dice
1 red bell pepper, stemmed, seeded, and cut into 1/4-inch (6-mm) dice
1 medium white onion, cut into 1/4-inch (6-mm) dice
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1/2 tablespoon minced fresh thyme leaves
1 bay leaf
Juice of 1/2 lime
Pinch cayenne
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon chopped fresh Italian parsley, for garnish

First, cut the kernels from the shucked ears of corn: Steadying one end of an ear of corn on a slip-resistant cutting board, with the corn at an angle away from you, carefully use a sharp knife to cut off the kernels several rows at a time, cutting downward from the nearest end to the other, parallel to the cob. Transfer the kernels to a bowl. Repeat with the remaining ears of corn.

In a heavy cast-iron skillet, heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot enough to flow easily, add the corn kernels and saute them, stirring frequently, until they begin turning golden brown, 7 to 10 minutes. Transfer the corn to a bowl and set aside. Carefully wipe out the skillet with paper towels.

Return the skillet to the heat. Heat the remaining olive oil and, when it is hot, add the zucchini, celery, bell pepper, onion and garlic. Saute, stirring frequently, until the vegetables are tender but not yet browned, about 10 minutes. Stir in the thyme, bay leaf, lime juice, cayenne, salt and black pepper to taste, and continue to cook for 3 minutes more. Stir in the reserved sauteed corn kernels and cook for another 3 minutes. Serve immediately, garnished with the parsley.

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