And just like that, the Fourth of July is upon us.
I for one am actually relishing the fact that our nation’s birthday is falling midweek, and not bestowing upon us a three-day weekend as she so often can. While normally having three days, instead of the more stingy two, is the cat’s pajamas, after a couple of really busy weekends, and with a friend from New York City coming to visit us on this one upcoming, a mid-week break sounds positively divine.
With our one extra day nestled smack into the middle of the rest, it is essentially impossible to board any flights, endure any long car rides, or really jigsaw in anything more than a little backyard grilling, wine drinking, and lazing around – which sounds perfectly right.
Unfortunately, this year, our Independence Day will not be celebrated with what usually is my favorite tradition of all – a booming fireworks display. But after all of the strife that my poor state has soldiered through with the horrendously destructive forest fires fueled by the oppressive soil-parching temperatures we’ve been experiencing, I think everyone is in agreement that a celebratory day sans spark-releasing rockets is more than the right thing to do.
It’s forecast to be hot, hot, hot again tomorrow (with the prediction shaping up to land somewhere in the 90’s) – but at least with the chance for a couple of afternoon showers, which hopefully will come stacked with more raindrops, and less lightning bolts.
Regardless, I am so looking forward to a Wednesday spent at home with my little family of three; snoozing through any alarms that would otherwise be set, eating apple-cinnamon pancakes where there would usually be granola, and chasing a panting puglet around with a hose in the garden, instead of setting off for a long and hot night at work.
In a bout of perhaps surprising procrastination, I actually do not have a menu planned for the Fourth of July. After finding out that our farmer’s market would be open tomorrow afternoon, I’ve decided to take a more organic approach, and fly by the proverbial seat of my pants. I’m thinking maybe some lamb burgers, or perhaps a rack of country ribs along with an interesting salad – but instead of trying to decide today what we’ll feel like tomorrow…I’m going to wait and see how we feel after those pancakes.
Regardless, I know I want something like these on the menu – these crisp edged little cakes, studded with kernels of fresh off the cob corn and bright flecks of chives, and blanketed in a creamy tarragon sauce. The cakes are made with a mixture of flour and cornmeal, giving them a nutty and warm flavor and a texture that is denser than a regular pancake, but much lighter than cornbread.
The sauce, made with a mixture of Greek yogurt and mayonnaise, is cool and creamy, and dotted throughout with tiny bits of fragrant and savory fresh tarragon. Cutting the sauce with yogurt helps to keep it on the lighter side, and also adds a nice tangy edge. The addition of shallots give the sauce a nice bite and mild oniony flavor, without it becoming overbearing or too strong.
The fresh corn is paramount to the flavor of these cakes; though we are not even really yet into the swing of fresh corn season (and, I’ll admit, this corn came from Georgia and is not local in the least), we are gearing up to be inundated with it, and these cakes are the perfect way to showcase it.
They bake up thick and fluffy in a lightly buttered and oiled pan, and need only a few minutes on each side to become golden brown and slightly puffed. Kept warm in a preheated oven, they can easily be made up to an hour or so ahead of time, and are wonderful served by themselves or as part of a bigger meal.
I served these with a seared piece of cod atop them, but they also make a fantastic main stage player when flanked with a good tomato salad or tangle of lightly dressed raw zucchini. They taste exactly of summer, and would make a fine vegetarian addition to any July Fourth spread.
Fresh Corn Cakes with Tarragon Sauce
Makes about 8 three inch cakes
I would hold off on making these cakes until you have access to fresh corn – the taste and texture truly are miles apart from the frozen variety. That said, if the craving strikes you in the middle of the Winter, the frozen type would do in a pinch.
These cakes are perfect on their own (making a delicious meal when paired with a simple side salad), but also make a great base and side for other main dishes. They would go fantastically alongside roast chicken, a seared piece of fish (as I had them, underneath a piece of pan-fried cod), or even alongside a bit of braised beef, or shortribs. You could also add a punch of color by topping a stack of sauce-dressed cakes with a few slices of fresh tomato and flaky sea salt.
These cakes are dense, and I really liked them that way. If you wanted lighter cakes, you could definitely whip the egg white portion of the egg into stiff peaks before folding it into the already mixed batter (including the yolk). You can use either fine or medium ground cornmeal here, but keep in mind that fine ground will give you a finer textured cake, and medium ground will give you a grittier toothier texture. I personally like the rustic taste of medium ground, and decided to use that here – but either works fine.
Be sure to use the ‘spoon and scoop’ method for the flour here; that is, instead of sifting, gently scoop the flour into your measuring cup with a spoon, and then carefully level it off when it is full. The amount of flour you can get into a measuring cup varies greatly with the method you use to fill it – for example, if you dig the measuring cup into the bag of flour, you are likely to pack much more into the cup than, say, sifting it (and aerating it) and then gently filling the cup (the variance can be up to a 1/2 cup in volume!). I used the ‘spoon and scoop’ method here, and recommend that you do to to ensure the same results.
1/2 cup mayo
1/2 cup greek yogurt (I like 2% Chobani)
1/3 cup fresh tarragon leaves
1 medium sized shallot, roughly chopped
1 Tbsp rice wine vinegar
1/4 tsp salt
3/4 cup flour
3/4 cup fine or medium ground cornmeal (see above)
1 1/4 cup buttermilk
2 Tbsp finely chopped chives
1 tsp salt
1 egg, lightly beaten
2 ears of fresh corn, kernels shucked from the cob
butter and olive oil, for frying the cakes
First, make the sauce. In the bowl of a mini-food processor (if you have it – a large one will work too), combine the mayo, greek yogurt, tarragon leaves, chopped shallot, rice wine vinegar, and salt. Process until the mixture is smooth and slightly thinned out, about one minute. You should see green flecks of tarragon, but no large chunks. Reserve the sauce to the side, in the refrigerator, until you are ready to serve.
To make the batter, combine the flour, cornmeal, buttermilk, chives, salt, and lightly beaten egg in a bowl. Gently stir with a spatula to combine the mixture, and stop when it is just mixed and there are no dry spots. Gently stir in the corn kernels. The batter should be thick in consistency, similar to that of cornbread. If the batter is too thick or dry, add a tablespoon or two of buttermilk (my batter was perfect with the 1 1/4 cups called for above).
Preheat your oven to 200F to keep your cooked cakes warm as you work your way through the batch, and prepare a cooking sheet by covering it in foil.
Heat a small pat of butter and just enough olive oil to help coat the bottom of the pan in a large heavy cast iron skillet or non-stick pan over medium-high heat. When the butter is melted and the oil is shimmering, drop the batter into the pan to create 3″ pancakes – do not smooth or tamp the batter down. Let the cakes cook until they are golden on their undersides, about 3 minutes, and then flip. Cook the remaining side another 2-3 minutes, until it too is golden brown.
As you cook the cakes, transfer them to the foil-covered cookie sheet and keep them warm in the oven.
Serve the cakes immediately, drizzled with the tarragon sauce.