Spicy corn is a hit in several kinds of summer menus

Entertaining

Veggies take center stage

Entertaining

August 25, 2002|By Betty Rosbottom | By Betty Rosbottom,Special to the Sun

This is the time of year when vegetables assume starring roles in my menus. In late summer seductive produce is only minutes away from my house. At local roadside stands as well as at our town's weekly farmers' market, and even in my big chain neighborhood supermarket, I am tempted by the season's crops. Heirloom tomatoes, native corn, home-grown summer squash, countless varieties of beans, and potatoes of varying hues are irresistible, and that's just a short list. Cucumbers, peppers -- both sweet and hot -- arugula and other salad greens, and fennel are also among the local offerings.

Not surprisingly, these fresh vegetables are so enticing that they are often the inspiration for many of my warm-weather meals as well. This week, for example, we have company coming for supper on two different nights, and I have decided to serve a spicy corn pudding on both evenings, building each menu around it. This baked corn casserole, a much simpler version of one I created over a decade ago, is made with fresh corn kernels that are sauteed with chopped leeks and then combined with a custard mixture of eggs and half and half. However, it is the generous amount of shredded pepper jack cheese that gives this corn pudding its big boost of flavor and distinguishes it from others.

For the first of the two dinners, I plan to offer this spicy corn creation with grilled cumin- and chile-rubbed pork tenderloins along with green beans tossed in lime butter. The second night it will be paired with grilled salmon fillets and with an avocado and tomato salad. It would be equally good served with barbecued ribs or chicken or as an accompaniment to grilled burgers.

On both evenings I will be able to bake the golden corn gratin several hours ahead, then reheat it before serving time, a great advantage because this will allow me time to concentrate on other dishes. The following recipe serves six, but you could easily double the ingredients for a larger group.

Distributed by the Los Angeles Times Syndicate International, a division of Tribune Media Services.

Pepper Jack Fresh Corn Pudding

Makes 6 servings

3 tablespoons oil

1 cup chopped leeks (white and light green parts only)

4 cups corn kernels (scraped from 7 to 8 ears of corn)

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

generous 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper

4 large eggs

2 cups half and half

2 cups shredded pepperjack cheese

Arrange rack at center position and preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter shallow 2-quart, oven-to-table baking dish.

Heat oil in large, heavy skillet over medium heat until hot. Add leeks and saute, stirring, until softened, about 2 minutes. Add corn and cook, stirring, 5 minutes more. Remove from heat and stir in salt, nutmeg and cayenne. Set aside.

In large bowl, whisk together eggs and half and half until blended. Stir in corn mixture and cheese, and mix well. Transfer to prepared baking dish.

Bake until knife or tester inserted into middle comes out clean and top is slightly brown, 35 to 45 minutes. Remove from oven and cool 5 minutes. (Gratin can be prepared 1 day ahead. Cool, cover and refrigerate. Reheat in preheated 350-degree oven 25 minutes or longer.) Serve warm.

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