For the restless kitchen-dweller or market maven, a calendar is redundant: we tell time by flora and fauna. Each season has its reliables, its rituals: a bowl of rhubarb crumble for March, roasted asparagus for April, paunchy strawberries in May, baby lettuces in June, July’s fuzzy peaches and dusty plums, August’s homely heirloom tomatoes, October’s abundant pumpkin bread, squat sweet-potato biscuits for November, deep red Dungeness crabs in December. If left to my own devices, I’d chart the progress of the year by food alone: it’s not winter unless I’ve braised a head of cabbage; spring waits for the first English pea; and summer hasn’t really begun until I’ve felt the delicious annoyance of a corn kernel wedged between my teeth. For those of you keeping track, this last detail means that my calendar is running, oh, say, five weeks behind.
Summer snapped me to attention only last weekend—a mere forty fiery sunsets and many bare-armed afternoons after what most consider its official onset—when a tub full of just-gathered bicolor corn materialized at my favorite stand in the University District Farmers’ Market, Willie Green’s Organic Farm.
Fortunately, I’m of the school that prefers lateness to neverness. It didn’t hurt that I had a barbeque on the evening’s schedule, a handful of radishes burning a hole in my crisper drawer, a basket of flawless green beans at my elbow, and a bunch of thyme at the next stand over, but suddenly everything screamed summer—and warm corn salad with green beans, radishes, and fresh thyme.
We all have repast-related rituals to seal the season, whether it’s the first flame-grilled hamburger in the backyard; a free-form dinner of avocado, Asian pear, and Prosecco on a Manhattan rooftop; my father’s trademark potato salad in its usual red Tupperware; or my mother’s blueberry-raspberry pound cake. For me, it’s warm corn salad. I first tasted this recipe one summer at the home of a woman whose name I can no longer remember, but its flavors—simple, sweet, and earthy, laced with lime—are hard to forget, even deep into winter, when the only corn available makes a better ice-pack than meal. This is a recipe with a finite deadline, tailor-made for the time when corn is fresh and tender enough to need only the gentlest cooking, or none at all, and when green beans are slim but meaty, radishes small and mild. Delicious with almost anything, from grilled beef on down the line, it’s also substantial enough to stand alone, although surely no one would turn down a ripe tomato on the side, or a hunk of cheese and some bread.
If left to my own devices, I might stall the calendar at corn salad. The rituals of the rest of the year can wait—at least a month or two.
Warm Corn Salad with Green Beans, Radishes, and Fresh Thyme
Adapted from Martha Stewart Living
6 ears corn (about 6 cups kernels)
½ lb green beans, trimmed
2 Tbs olive oil, plus more for drizzling
1 large red onion, thinly sliced
1 large clove garlic, finely chopped
1 Tbs fresh thyme leaves
Salt, to taste
Pepper, to taste
Juice of 2 fresh limes
1 bunch red radishes, thinly sliced
Using a large chef’s knife, cut the kernels from the corn into a medium bowl; set aside. Place a medium saucepan filled with 4 cups salted water over medium-high heat, and bring it to a boil. Place the green beans in the boiling water, and cook them until their color changes from light green to a deeper, darker green, about 2 minutes. Drain them, and rinse them under cold water until cool. Cut them into 2- to 3-inch lengths; set aside.
Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onion slices and cook, stirring, until they begin to caramelize slightly, about 5 minutes. [Do not overcook; you don’t want them to fall apart.] Add the garlic and thyme, and cook 1 minute more. Add the reserved corn, the salt, and the pepper. Cook, stirring, until the corn is hot, about 4-5 minutes. Add the reserved beans, and cook until just warm, about 2 minutes more.
Remove the skillet from the heat. Toss the corn salad with fresh lime juice, and garnish it with radish slices. Drizzle with a bit of olive oil, if you like, and serve.
Yield: 4-6 servings