Some of my favorite summer memories include sweet corn — dripping with butter at the state fair; popped and salty at the drive-in movie theater; slathered with mayonnaise, cheese and chile powder at street festivals; sweet and crunchy in salads at the family picnic.
To this day, we love to stop on the way to the cabin and buy firm, tightly wrapped ears from local farm stands. Two ears apiece for most of us, three for the hearty eaters. The pot of salted water is set to boil before we've unpacked the car. My family knows full well that the closer the eating is to the picking, the sweeter the corn. Sometimes, corn on the cob is dinner.
I slice kernels from any excess cobs to transport easily back to the city house. There, we turn the corn into fresh corn polenta to serve with quick-grilling pork chops. Other kernels get tucked into a cold salad to pack for lunches.
Every summer my fresh corn salad sees a changeup. This summer, I'm crazy about creamy white choclo corn from Peru. The slightly nutty-tasting kernels are more than four times the size of summertime sweet corn — and not sweet — so the contrast between the two when eaten together is terrific. It's sold frozen in large bags (look for "choclo desgranado" — shelled — from Goya) at Latino grocery stores. I stock it for use in ceviche, soups, stews, side dishes and the salad recipe that follows below. It just needs a gentle boil in salted water to soften it to a toothsome texture. You can substitute canned choclo or hominy; just rinse it well, and skip the boiling.
Trader Joe's sells Giant Peruvian Inca Corn as a salted and roasted snack — kind of like toasted and salted corn nuts. Both are great as a garnish on salads, adding ginormous corn crunch.
Polenta might sound like a cold-weather dish, but laced with sweet corn kernels, both puréed and whole, it's light, nearly fluffy. The recipe that follows can be made in advance, freeing up the cook to pay attention to other vegetables or items cooking on the grill.
We grill pork chops all summer long for their versatility and their affinity with sweet corn. For family meals, I select lean, boneless loin chops or the pleasingly chewy blade chop. When we're having people over, I splurge and purchase bone-in, center cut rib chops. They are gorgeous, lean, yet juicy.
Pork chops between 1½ inches and 2 inches thick cook beautifully on the grill. Thinner ones dry out easily; thicker ones prove difficult to cook properly. For added flavor and moistness, I soak them in a sweet-salty whiskey brine. You'll be amazed at the lovely whiskey flavor that comes through the chop. I dollop a simple, fresh relish of plums and tomatoes over the pork and serve with polenta on the side.
For even more summer corn goodness, I make cornbread croutons from store-bought cornbread. It barely takes 10 minutes, and these crispy, sweet nuggets elevate any summer salad. Try them as a garnish on the sweet-corn polenta or on a chicken salad. Or, toss with a bit of sugar, toast them extra crispy and then crumble over vanilla ice cream topped with caramel sauce. Genius.