Dope Recipe Alert: Corn Husk Risotto with Lime, Basil, and Pancetta

August 14, 2012 4:47 PM EDT | By Anthony Smith
Corn Risotto
Bam! Corn being shucked for a Summer Sweet Corn risotto recipe. (Photo: Creative Commons)

I know, I know, I'm sort of obsessed with corn recipes right now. But it's with good reason. We've had such a scorching hot summer, and if we're to go by some old farmer's wisdom on this, it means our corn is sweeter than ever. So let's make good on that and do not just as much as we can with sweet summer corn, but as much as we can with every part of the corn.

And that means that we're going to be using the parts of the corn that we typically throw away, the cobs and the husks, to make some of the dopest food around.

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If you're looking for a recipe that extracts all that nice, corn flavor from the kernel-less cobs, click here. If you want to take a look and see what I do with those corn husks, keep reading.

So, today we'll be making risotto. I know that sounds particularly tiresome, given that slaving over a hot stove isn't at all how you want to be spending a hot summer day, but we promise you that the rewards you reap from this incredibly delicious meal are well worth the sweat that goes into it.

What's the first part of a good risotto? A good-- nay, a great stock. That's what holds most home cooks back from greatness-- the fact that time and time again, out of convenience, we'll always resort to using a store-bought stock in all of our cooking.

Not this time, my friend! This risotto comes with a simple stock recipe that takes such an incredibly small amount of work and yields absolutely perfect results each time.

Part One: Making a Concentrated Corn Stock from the Husks

So, how do we make a corn stock with a ton of concentrated corn flavor? Simple: boil down those husks. Go to the supermarket and buy five ears of corn with the husks on. Peel the husks off and chop them up into two-inch square pieces. The chopping doesn't make the stock taste any better or worse, but it does allow for you to cover them with less water more easily.

And in a dish like this, the less water you have, the better.

Add the chopped up husks of five ears of corn to a stock pot. Cover them with twelve cups of ice-cold water, half of a chopped sweet onion (the sweetest you can find), and two-and-a-half teaspoons of kosher salt. Bring it to a boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer. Simmer for forty-five minutes to an hour, then drain, obviously reserving the stock and discarding the onion and the husks.

Taste it. Impossibly sweet and rich, right? That's going to serve as the backbone for your risotto.

Put ten cups of the finished concentrated corn husk into the stock pot again and bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer immediately.

Part Two: The Other Backbone

While the stock is heating up, put three-and-a-half tablespoons of olive oil and four tablespoons of unsalted butter in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Cook until all the butter is just melted, then add one finely-sliced stalk of celery, one finely chopped onion, and three or four minced cloves of garlic. Once you get a good sizzle, lower the heat to medium-low and cook for fifteen minutes, stirring occasionally, until the veggies are tender and incredibly aromatic.

These veggies are the other backbone of a good risotto, and celery is a much overlooked secret in giving a risotto its flavor.

Part Three: Dealing with the Rice

You're going to want to use two cups of arborio rice here. Measure it out and add it to the pan, along with a shot of dry white wine or dry vermouth. Since you're cooking with corn and risottos are notorious for lacking an acid, I like to add anywhere between one-fourth to one-half a teaspoon of fresh squeezed lime juice at this point in the recipe.

I typically tend towards the smaller side, just because I don't usually want to taste the line in the recipe. Rather, the slightest, subliminal hint of it helps make the corn taste more corny. If you like the taste of line, you can go ahead and add the full one-fourth teaspoon at this point. Keep in mind we'll be adding more lime to other components of the dish later.

Stir up the mix in the pan and then let it toast on medium heat for thirty seconds before you start adding the simmering corn husk stock, ladle by ladle, into the pan with the rice. When the risotto is done in about twenty-five to thirty minutes, it will have absorbed approximately eight cups of stock and be nice and tender-- but not overly soft and overcooked.

Make sure you add in small quantities and only add more once the rice has absorbed all the stock from the previous ladle.

Part Four: Cooking the Corn

While the risotto is cooking, you're going to do a little multi-tasking and cook the corn at this juncture.

Think of the risotto as the red carpet on which the celebrity of the dish gets to walk. This time, corn is king. So let's get to work with that.

In a frying pan, add one-half tablespoon of butter and a cup of pancetta. Cook over medium heat till the fat starts to render.

Next, add the shucked corn kernels from four ears of corn, one-eighth teaspoon of lime juice, one-eighth a teaspoon of red pepper flakes (optional, I like it for the body it adds) and a tablespoon of the shucked corn stock. Cook on medium-low heat, covered, for eight minutes, checking every three minutes or so and deglazing the pan with a splash of corn stock as needed.

You want the corn to be al dente when it's done, remembering that it still needs to combine and cook for just a little longer with

Part Five: Your Risotto's About to be Done

After twenty-five to thirty minutes, your Arborio rice should be done absorbing the corn stock and should be at its appropriate texture and consistency (tender but not too soft, and nice and porridgy), and your corn should be ever-so-slightly under al dente.

Lower the arborio rice pan's heat to low, then add one cup of good parmesan cheese, four tablespoons of unsalted butter, the corn and the pancetta, one cup of chopped fresh basil, and half the zest of one lime.

Stir it up till just combined and (CRUCIAL RISOTTO STEP HERE) COVER THE PAN AND LOWER THE HEAT AND WAIT FIVE MINUTES.

Once five minutes are done, open the pan, smell the aromatics from everything-- in particular the lime zest and how it works against the corn and the butter-- and serve as immediately as possible with a glass of wine or a glass of limeade.



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