With many corn chowders relying on bacon or chicken stock for extra flavor, they don’t meet the needs of vegetarians or anyone who is eating mostly plant-based meals. Since I always prioritize flavor, rest assured that this version is just as satisfying. For a decadent finishing touch, I top it with crispy fried basil. A quick dip in the frying pan turns basil shatteringly crispy and translucent…not to mention incredibly tasty.
Loaded with fresh corn, potatoes, and red pepper, and topped with herbs, this chowder is ideal for those days when you have a counter full of goods from the farmers market. Naturally sweet, local corn is such a treat that I use the cobs to create a quick stock while chopping the rest of the vegetables.
4 ears of corn
6 sprigs thyme
5 cups water
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 russet potato, diced
2 shallots, chopped
½ red bell pepper, chopped
2 tablespoons flour
1 cup half and half
Salt and pepper to taste
Begin by shucking the corn and cutting the kernels off each cob. An easy way to do this is to slice the bottom of each cob so that it has a flat surface. Stand the corn upright in a large bowl or on a cutting board with a groove around the perimeter. Take a sharp knife and cut from top to bottom, releasing the kernels. Continue turning the cob and cutting from top to bottom as if the cob has four sides. Set aside the kernels and any liquid that is released while cutting.
Place the cobs in a pot. Prepare the onions and carrots by peeling and quartering. Add these to the pot along with the thyme, peppercorns, and water. Bring to a boil then simmer over medium-low heat for 30 minutes. Strain the stock, which should have reduced to 3 cups.
In a soup pot, heat the olive oil over low heat. Add the shallots, peppers, and corn kernels and cook over medium-low heat until the shallots are translucent and the rest of the vegetables are tender. Stir the flour into the vegetables and cook for another minute. Add the strained stock and potatoes. Bring to a boil and then simmer for about 10 minutes, until the potatoes are tender and the soup has begun to thicken. Using a slotted spoon, remove 1 ½ cup of the vegetables and place them in a small bowl. Add the half and half to the vegetables and puree using an immersion blender. Alternately you can puree them in a standing blender.
Add the puree to the soup pot and continue to simmer until the chowder has reached your preferred consistency. Season with salt and cracked black pepper.
For the fried basil, rinse and thoroughly dry basil leaves. Make as many or as few as you like. Heat oil in a large pan then fry leaves in small batches, using long tongs to flip. Cook approximately 10 seconds per side and remove to a paper towel lined plate to drain.
Ladle chowder into small crocks and top with crispy basil leaves.