Urbana’s Sweet Corn Festival isn’t for another three weeks but that doesn’t mean we can’t start celebrating. We don’t grow much sweet corn here in Illinois; as a matter of fact, of the millions of acres of corn planted on all four sides of Champaign-Urbana, and across the state, only a fraction is suitable for human consumption. So eat all the local corn you can this summer, as it is a precious commodity. If you’ve never picked up corn from Market at the Square, the Schottman brothers in Effingham or the Kleiss farm in Tuscola grow perfect ears.
Corn has so many applications; the possibilities are endless. Even corn on the cob can be versatile. Aside from the obligatory butter, try adding a dash of cayenne or Tabasco sauce to your cob for a little heat. A squirt of lime and chopped cilantro give a south-of-the-border flair. Sprinkle your cob with grated parmesan, and although, I’m not sure you could call it Italian; the addition is really good. Cut the fresh kernels off the ear and add to a blazing hot cast iron skillet for a smoky charred salsa or an interesting topping for your summer salads and pastas. Simply grilled, corn unveils its finest attributes. The husks protect the corn from getting dried out, and the corn essentially steams in its own moisture.
Now, for a cooking method every central Illinois corn-fed resident should know:
Grilled Corn on the Cob
Ideally, corn should be cooked as soon as possible after it has been picked because its sugar content quickly turns to starch. Yet another reason to support your local grower.
Prepare your grill — gas or charcoal — with direct, high heat. Carefully pull back husks from corn, leaving attached and intact. Remove silks from corn and replace husks. Soak corn in a big bowl or pot of cold water for 10 minutes.
Place the corn in their husks on the hot grill. Cover. Turn the corn occasionally, until the husks are charred on all sides, about 15 to 20 minutes. Remove corn from grill. Let sit for five minutes.
Use a hand towel to protect your hands while removing the charred husks from the corn. Serve hot, with butter or aforementioned suggestions.
Market at the Square runs every Saturday from 7a.m.-noon, rain or shine now through Nov. 8. The farmer’s market is located in the parking lot of Urbana Square Mall on the corners of Vine and Illinois streets.