Friday, February 25, 2011

White Corn, Potato, Leek & Turkey Bacon Chowder with Jalapeño-Cilantro Pesto

Instead of getting to our taxes I'm sharing this little soup with you. Not entirely a wise choice but infinitely more appetizing.

I think I've become a bit of a soup snob. Though I've never hidden my penchant for soups, I rarely order them in restaurants unless they come served with amazing accolades. I've been disappointed so many times, pushing aside a too-thick, flour-laden, tasteless chowder, or a watery bowl of broth with nary a vegetable in sight. When I do come across a soup that makes a distinct impression, however, I am a loyal follower and an avid consumer (you may recall this one.)

Many times I spy something in a cookbook or magazine that sounds exceptionally good. Though I might tweak it a bit to our own liking, the "bones" of the recipe remain intact. Or... I completely go off on my own tangent... slicing, dicing, mixing, and simmering until it tastes like what I'm after.

This particular soup is more of the tangent-variety. It came about in the middle of the produce section at the market, after realizing that I had once again left my detailed list at home. Scanning the selection of produce, I remembered a corn and potato chowder that was featured on a cooking show I'd seen. So, yes, I guess I initially "spied" it, but it veered dramatically from that initial thought. That particular recipe called for both flour and cream, neither of which I wanted to use and both of which are fairly common in chowders (and the reason I steer clear). I do, however, like the thought of a chowder... its chunky, hearty, warm-you-to-the-bones nature. I figured a good pop of potatoes would release enough starch to give this soup the oomph it needed to qualify as a "chowder" and deliver that characteristic comforting satisfaction.

The other part of pulling this chowder together was coming up with something that would give it a fresh pop... chowders can be a little boring without a little pop of heat or freshness (just my opinion).

I immediately thought of jalapeños, thinking I could mince them up and cook them along with some onion, or such, to get the base started. Then I spied cilantro... and the whole picture came together.

In reality, I only looked lost and forlorn in the produce section for maybe two minutes...

And the good news is that the chowder turned out great. It was just thick enough to adequately be called a chowder -- tasty with a start of sautéed leeks and turkey bacon to get the broth going; satisfying with generous bites of diced potatoes that are cooked through just until they have that perfect toothy goodness without getting overly mushy; and nicely balanced in texture with a subtle crunch of white corn.

Then... there's the pesto. A dollop atop a steaming bowl of this chowder melts and melds into the broth giving each spoonful a perfect little pop of fresh, zesty flavor.

I can now only hope our taxes come together with the same ease and satisfaction.

White Corn, Potato, Leek & Turkey Bacon Chowder with Jalapeño-Cilantro Pesto
A Savory Nest
serves 4

3 to 4 tablespoons olive oil
5 to 6 slices turkey bacon, diced
2 leeks (white only), thinly sliced
32 ounces organic vegetable broth
2 large yukon gold potatoes, peeled and diced to approximate 1/4"- 1/2" cubes
8 ounces frozen white corn
salt and pepper, to taste

For pesto:
3 whole fresh jalapeño peppers, seeded and roughly chopped
2 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
1 cup fresh cilantro leaves (a good hearty fistful or two)
1/4 cup shredded parmesan cheese
1/4 cup olive oil (stream in just until desired consistency is reached)
salt and pepper, to taste

1. Heat olive oil in a heavy pot over medium high heat. Add in turkey bacon and sliced leeks; sauté until leeks are soft and bacon is cooked through, about 5 to 7 minutes.
2. Add broth and potatoes to leek mixture; reduce heat to a low simmer and continue cooking for another 10 to 15 minutes, just until potatoes can be pierced through with a fork with some give (not mushy), adding corn to mixture after first 5 minutes or so of simmering.
3. While soup simmers, drop jalapeños, garlic, cilantro and parmesan into a food processor and pulse until combined. Stream in olive oil and process until desired consistency is achieved. Add salt and pepper, to taste. Spoon pesto into a bowl and pour a thin layer of olive oil on top; cover with plastic wrap and place in fridge.
4. When chowder is done (potatoes test firm but cooked through), ladle into bowls and dollop with a spoonful of pesto. Serve immediately.

Note: You should have plenty of pesto to carry over to other meals/nibbles... a dollop on grilled salmon? spooned onto nachos? Mixed into pasta?

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