When my husband’s grandparents were still living, we used to spend Saturdays at their house just outside town.
It usually looked like this: The man and I rolled out of bed around 10:00. (What can I say? I was in college and he was a late-night bartender. Mornings were not our thing.) I was still new to cooking, and I’d flip through my Better Homes and Gardens cookbook on the way to the store, where I’d run in and grab everything we needed while my now-husband idled in his Jeep outside.
We’d roll in around noon, and Papaw would tell me he ALMOST ate without us, we took so long. I’d spend 45 minutes trying to turn packets and powders into biscuits and soups, and after lunch, we’d spend the hot afternoons drifting in and out of consciousness on the back porch.
Sometimes I didn’t cook at all. Sometimes I called Papaw to ask him what he wanted, and he’d tell me he had the fryer out. Just the thought of his shiny head leaning over the fryer and a platter lined with paper towels at the ready was enough to make your stomach growl. While my husband was in it for the catfish, I couldn’t get enough of the corn fritters.
Blistering hot, sweet like creamed corn, crispy on the edges like a hushpuppy—I lost count of how many I could put down.
That’s what this risotto reminds me of. Long afternoons reading Papaw’s books, scrutinizing the garden with Memaw, and listening to big band swing on public radio.
To really make this recipe sing, you have to use fresh, juicy, late summer corn, and I’ve been making batch after batch.
Rather than resorting to cream or cheese, I make this creamy risotto with puréed fresh corn. I like to call it “corn butter,” and it’s magical. You can cook corn butter down in a pan and thicken it until it’s the consistency of a spread, like butter. Or you can do what I do, and dump it into a fresh pot of risotto. The starchiness thickens it, and the earthy-sweet corn flavor adds depth to the risotto.
A big scoop of raw, crisp corn kernels keeps it fresh, and the arugula pesto and blistered cherry tomatoes add an extra dimension. But if you don’t want to get fancy, you can eat this risotto “straight” with a sprinkle of fresh herbs.
And you want to know what else?
You can fritter it.
I’ve got a vegan risotto guide coming out soon that will give you all the details on risotto fritters, but for now, know this: if you have leftover corn risotto, you can shape it into patties, bread it, and drop it in hot oil or slide it into an oven and end up with crispy, sweet, indulgent corn fritters…I mean corn risotto fritters.
- 4 large ears of sweet, ripe summer corn
- ¾ cup yellow onion, diced small
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- ¾ cup arborio rice
- ¼ cup dry white wine
- 4 cups vegetable broth
- 1 cup cherry or grape tomatoes
- 2 cups (2 handfuls) arugula
- 2-4 Tablespoons olive oil
- Salt and pepper, to taste
- Shuck and rinse the corn. Use a sharp knife to shave the corn off the cob. Pro tip: Hold the corncob vertically and slice down with the knife. Pro tip 2: Do this in a bowl so the kernels get caught in the bowl rather than flying across the kitchen.
- Purée 1½ cups of the corn in a powerful blender and set aside. You should have 1–1½ cups remaining corn kernels. Set aside.
- In 2-quart pot, heat vegetable broth (with a lid so it doesn’t evaporate!) over medium heat. When simmering, reduce heat to low.
- In a heavy-bottomed 4-quart pot, heat 2 Tablespoons olive oil or vegetable broth over medium-high heat. Cook onions for 3-5 minutes, until translucent but not browned. Add the garlic and cook another 2-3 minutes, until fragrant but not browned.
- Add the rice to the pot and toast for 2-3 minutes.
- Add the wine, stirring until evaporated/absorbed.
- A ladle-ful at a time, add the simmering broth to the rice pot, stirring frequently. Each time the rice fully absorbs the broth, add a few more ladles. This process can take anywhere from 25-40 minutes, depending on how dry your rice is and how humid your environment is. Now’s the time to start drinking wine!
- Meanwhile, heat the oven to 425ºF. Halve the tomatoes, drizzle with a few drops of oil, toss to coat, and cook for 15 minutes.
- Add the arugula and 2 Tablespoons olive oil to the blender and purée until smooth (see photos above).
- When the risotto is fully-cooked (it has a little bit of chew but doesn’t stick in your teeth), add the corn purée and corn kernels and stir to combine. The texture should be like this: you can scoop it, but if you pour it into a bowl it will mostly flatten out with curved edges (see photos). If the risotto is too thick, add more broth and stir. If it’s too thin, leave on the heat for 2-3 more minutes.
- Remove from heat. Scoop into 4 bowls, top with tomatoes, and drizzle with arugula pesto.