by: Barb Randall, 
Corn from the backyard is about as special a taste treat as summer gardens can provide.

A simple ear of corn - did you know it is made up of about 800 kernels arranged neatly into 16 rows?

There is no flavor quite like that of corn. It has a sweetness you can't duplicate, a nutty fragrance and a crisp texture; those descriptions are a dead giveaway that corn is a grain.

Whether eaten on the cob 'typewriter style' or cut from the cob, fresh corn has a taste that just hollers 'SUMMER!' Our local corn harvest is just hitting its stride.

Corn is best eaten freshly picked, as the sugars turn to starch immediately when separated from the stalk. Be sure to eat your fair share now and tuck some into your freezer to enjoy this winter.

To freeze the corn, simply cut it off the cob, bag it in airtight bags and place in the freezer. You will enjoy that burst of summer flavor during the chilly days of winter.

A common practice when selecting ears of corn at the grocery store is to peel back the husks to inspect the kernels. Ooh, please resist the urge to do this! Peeling back the husk dries out the kernels.

To select a good ear of corn, dig to the bottom of the bin where the ears are coolest. Find ears with fresh cut stems and feel the top section of the ear to determine if kernels are filled out to the end. Husks should fit snuggly over the kernels.

Choose a plump ear if you like kernels that are well developed. Choose a more slender ear if you like less developed and more tender kernels.

At this point in the summer, most of our meals are created with ingredients straight out of the garden. Nothing tastes better or makes you feel healthier.

This gratin of corn and tomatoes combines two of our favorite vegetables in a large two-quart baking dish. If you are cooking for a smaller crew or want a more festive presentation, use individual baking dishes. Be sure to adjust your baking time.

Bon Appetit - Eat Locally!

Corn and Tomato Gratin

Makes six to eight servings

1 ½ pound red or yellow tomatoes (about 4 medium) cut crosswise into ½ inch slices

2 teaspoons salt

1 teaspoon black pepper

4 cups fresh corn kernels (from 6 to 8 ears)

1 cup whole milk

½ cup heavy cream

2 cups fresh bread crumbs (preferably from a day-old baguette; about an 8-inch piece including crust)

½ cup chopped fresh basil

1 ounce fresh grated parmesan (1/2 cup)

6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, cut into small pieces

Additional butter or cooking spray for coating the pan

Arrange tomato slices in one layer on a rack set in a shallow baking pan and sprinkle on both sides with one teaspoon salt and ½ teaspoon pepper. Let drain 30 minutes.

While tomatoes drain, bring corn, milk, cream and ¼ teaspoon salt to a simmer in a 2 to 3 quart heavy saucepan over high heat, then reduce heat and simmer, partially covered, until corn is tender, about five minutes. Cool slightly, uncovered.

Put oven rack in upper third of oven and preheat to 375º F. Butter or spray a two-quart baking dish or individual 8 ounce baking dishes.

Toss together bread crumbs, basil, cheese and remaining ¾ teaspoon salt and ½ teaspoon pepper in another bowl.

Arrange one third of tomato slices in baking dish, then cover evenly with one third of breadcrumb mixture and dot with one third of the butter. Spoon half of corn mixture over crumbs, then repeat layering with half of the remaining tomatoes, crumbs and butter and all of the corn. Arrange remaining tomatoes over corn, then top with remaining bread crumbs and dot with remaining butter.

Bake, uncovered, until top is golden and gratin is bubbling all over, 40 to 45 minutes. Cool slightly on a rack, about 15 minutes, before serving.

Cook's note: Gratin can be assembled, but not baked, four hours ahead and chilled, covered. Let stand at room temperature 30 minutes before baking.

Adapted from Gourmet, Sept. 2006

Randall welcomes your questions and research suggestions. She can be reached at 503-635-8811 or by e-mailing [email protected]

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