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Sweet corn season: How to choose, cook and preserve the newest varieties

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Sweet corn

Finding sweet corn at a roadside stand or farmers market is one of the best treats of summer. Every year, growers try new hybrid varieties to tempt their shoppers to buy more.

This year, you might see sweet corn with unfamiliar names:

Temptress: Promises exceptionally tender kernels and great sweet corn flavor.

Supersweet Jubilee: Sometimes said to be the best-tasting supersweet variety available.

Gotta Have It: A Gurney's hybrid that is fantastic for freezing (and we have tips for that).

Kate: A new bicolor supersweet that also boasts excellent eating quality.

Super Surprise: Another bicolor sweet corn that does well at farmers markets and roadside stands.

Caliber: Best for eating fresh with superb flavor.

I look hard for older, sometimes heirloom varieties of corn, like Country Gentleman, Golden Bantam and the venerable Trucker's Delight. But they are the very devil to find.

As Americans have cultivated palates that prefer sugar over all other flavors, farmers find their customers prefer the supersweet and sugary-enhanced varieties. These hybrids, conventionally bred so their sugars are high and take longer to convert into starch, hold and ship better, too. They are not genetically engineered.

Some new varieties, however, have been bred to allow the use of Roundup and other pesticides. If the grower tells you the name of the variety is some combination of letters and numbers, that's probably the case. Ask the grower if you can.

Some varieties are better for freezing and canning than others. Gotta Have It freezes well, but Temptress, bred to have tender kernels with thin skins, may turn mushy after freezing. Again, ask the grower if you can.

HOW TO FREEZE

Freezing corn is the easiest way to preserve it. It may be frozen as whole ears, in the husks, without blanching. After freezing, cook it, still in the husks, in the microwave for 3 to 4 minutes on high. Let it cool a bit before shucking. If you prefer to freeze it on the cob without the husks, blanch medium-size ears for 7 to 8 minutes and cool immediately in an ice-water bath. Then freeze.

Blanch kernels cut from the ears, too; blanch the whole ears for about 4 minutes, cool immediately, then cut the kernels from the ears. If you tumble the kernels onto a rimmed baking sheet and freeze before packing in zip-close bags, you'll find it easier to portion out the frozen corn later.

HOW TO CAN

Canning corn must be done in a pressure canner for food safety reasons (the exceptions are vinegary relishes such as the one we offer here). Pints need to process for 55 minutes; quarts for 85 minutes. It's best to consult a canning resource such as the National Center for Home Food Preservation (nchfp.uga.edu) for specifics. Note that supersweet and sugary-enhanced varieties may brown a little from the caramelization of their sugars in the canner.

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Use up some of that wheelbarrow-load of zucchini in this simple souffle, which is also studded with corn. (Shannon Kinsella/food styling) (Abel Uribe/Chicago Tribune/TNS)

CORN-ZUCCHINI-CHEESE SOUFFLE

Prep: 50 minutes

Stand: 30 minutes

Cook: 45-50 minutes

Makes: about 10 servings

This simplified souffle relies on the creaminess of the melted cheese to thicken its base, rather than a flour-based roux. Like all souffles, it will deflate if it stands too long after cooking, so serve it hot from the oven. Pro tip: Dig out your tube pan or bundt pan when you cut the kernels off the cob; stand the cob upright in the center hole, and the kernels will fall into the pan as you cut.

2 medium ears sweet corn, to yield about 1 cup kernels

2 medium zucchini (about 1 1/2 pounds), grated

2 1/2 teaspoons salt, divided use

2 green onions, thinly sliced

6 large eggs

1/4 teaspoon each: pepper, grated nutmeg

1 1/4 cups half-and-half or whole milk

1 cup cubed cambozola, fontina or Brie cheese

1. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 2 1/2-quart souffle dish; dust lightly with flour. Cut corn from cobs; place kernels in a large bowl.

2. Place zucchini in a colander set into the sink; sprinkle with 1 teaspoon salt; toss. Let stand, 30 minutes. Rinse and drain well; blot dry with paper towels or wring in a clean cloth towel. Add zucchini and green onions to corn kernels.

3. Meanwhile, separate eggs; let stand at room temperature, 30 minutes. After standing time, beat egg yolks well in a small bowl. Add to corn-zucchini mixture.

4. Stir in the remaining 1 1/2 teaspoons salt, plus the pepper and nutmeg; gradually stir in half-and-half or milk. Stir in cheese.

5. In a large bowl, beat egg whites with an electric mixer on high speed until stiff but not dry. Gently stir a fourth of the egg whites into the corn mixture. Fold in remaining egg whites. Transfer to prepared dish.

6. Bake until top is puffed and center appears set, 45-50 minutes. Serve immediately.

Nutrition information per serving: 158 calories, 11 g fat, 6 g saturated fat, 137 mg cholesterol, 7 g carbohydrates, 2 g sugar, 10 g protein, 520 mg sodium, 1 g fiber

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Spoon bread is a longtime Southern favorite. This green chile-cheese-corn version gets a double hit of corn flavor from cornmeal and fresh corn kernels. (Shannon Kinsella/food styling) (Abel Uribe/Chicago Tribune/TNS)

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GREEN CHILE-CHEESE-CORN SPOON BREAD

Prep: 35 minutes

Cook: 35 minutes

Makes: 6 to 8 servings

Spoon bread is a longtime Southern favorite. This version gets a double hit of corn flavor from cornmeal and fresh corn kernels. It’s very good as a side dish with grilled or roasted chicken, pork or fish. Try using other cheeses in this as well: grated cheddar, while completely different, gives an excellent result.

3 medium ears sweet corn, to yield about 1 1/2 cups kernels

2 cups milk

2/3 cup cornmeal

2 tablespoons butter

3/4 teaspoon coarse or sea salt

1/2 teaspoon hot sauce, such as Tabasco or Frank’s, or more to taste

2 teaspoons dried oregano, crumbled

1/2 cup shredded pepper-jack cheese

1 can (4 ounces) hot or mild diced green chiles, drained

4 eggs, separated

1. Heat oven to 350. Grease a heavy 10-inch skillet or an 8-inch square baking dish. Cut the kernels from the ears of corn and set aside.

2. Mix milk, cornmeal, butter, salt, hot sauce and oregano in medium saucepan. Bring just to a boil over medium heat. Reduce heat to medium-low; simmer until slightly thickened, stirring frequently, 2 minutes. Remove from heat. Stir in cheese, chiles and corn kernels. Let stand until slightly cooled, 10 to 15 minutes.

3. Beat egg yolks in a small bowl. Stir into cornmeal mixture. Beat egg whites in a medium bowl with an electric mixer on high speed until soft peaks form. Stir one fourth of the egg whites into the cornmeal mixture until well mixed. Gently fold in remaining egg whites. Pour into skillet or baking dish.

4. Bake until top is browned and center is slightly loose (a knife inserted into center comes out clean), 25 to 30 minutes. Let stand 5 minutes before serving.

Nutrition information per serving (for 8 servings): 193 calories, 9 g fat, 5 g saturated fat, 112 mg cholesterol, 20 g carbohydrates, 4 g sugar, 9 g protein, 359 mg sodium, 2 g fiber

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This grilled corn relish is good as a piquant side to any summer supper. (Shannon Kinsella/food styling) (Abel Uribe/Chicago Tribune/TNS)

GRILLED CORN RELISH

Prep: 40 minutes

Cook: 45 minutes

Makes: Four 8-ounce jars, or about 4 1/2 cups

This is an old-timey corn relish, the kid-friendly kind you put on sandwiches and hot dogs. It’s also good as a piquant side to any summer supper. You’ll have enough for yourself and some to share. Instead of finely chopping the vegetables by hand, you can do so in a food processor or blender, in batches.

5 ears of corn, shucked

1 large onion, finely chopped

1 green pepper, stemmed, seeded, finely chopped

1/4 head cabbage, finely chopped

1 cup cider vinegar

2 tablespoons each: salt, flour

1/2 teaspoon each: dry mustard powder, celery seed, mustard seed

1/4 teaspoon turmeric

1/2 cup sugar

1. Grill or broil the ears, turning frequently, until the kernels have begun to char, 10-12 minutes. Cut kernels from cobs. Set corn aside, discarding cobs.

2. Place corn and chopped vegetables in a large pot. Pour 1/2 cup vinegar over vegetables. Moisten salt, flour, mustard powder, celery seed, mustard seed and turmeric with remaining 1/2 cup vinegar; stir to combine. Stir into vegetable mixture, along with the sugar.

3. Over medium-high heat, bring mixture to a boil; reduce heat to a gentle boil and cook, stirring occasionally, 30 minutes. Allow to cool before storing in the fridge in covered containers.

4. This relish will keep up to six weeks in the refrigerator. For longer storage, follow canning instructions below.

5. Ladle corn relish into clean, hot 8-ounce jars. Wipe rims. Apply lids. Process in boiling-water bath for 15 minutes, beginning timing when water in canner returns to a full rolling boil. Remove canner lid. Let stand 5 minutes, then remove jars, cool and store.

Nutrition information per tablespoon: 55 calories, 0 g fat, 0 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 12 g carbohydrates, 7 g sugar, 1 g protein, 782 mg sodium, 1 g fiber

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