The last time I made corn risotto, last year or the year before, it was fancied up with excellent chanterelle mushrooms — a rare treat for the urban shopper. The resulting risotto was a treat, too.
This season, though, my intention was to use (almost) no flavors other than those of the corn itself. The plan was facilitated by the realization that if I made some corncob broth in the pressure cooker it would actually taste of something. Earlier experiments simmering the cobs yielded a wan, good-for-nothing liquid that I ended up pouring down the drain.
But cutting the kernels and scraping the starchy juice off 10 ears, chopping the bare cobs into 2-inch lengths then pressure-cooking them with water and a little salt (high pressure for 20 minutes) resulted in a light broth that had the powerful, enticing aroma you get when you open a freshly steamed tamal: corn at its most elemental. It even tasted good (though the aroma beat the pants off the flavor) and would clearly be an asset when used in a soup or stew. . .or risotto.
Few risottos could have been more basic: I sweated a small, finely chopped onion in butter with some salt and pepper, then added some white wine and reduced it to nearly nothing. (Why the wine before the rice? Here’s why.) Then, for two portions, I added 2/3 cup of carnaroli rice (or use your favorite risotto rice), some tarragon and a 1/2 cup of that corncob broth, lightly salted and kept warm.
Standard risotto-making continued: I added corncob broth and stirred frequently until the rice was nearly cooked, then added lots and lots of corn kernels. When these were heated through and slightly cooked, the rice was done, too, and I vigorously stirred in about a 1/2 cup of the starchy juice/pulp scraped off the cobs, a couple tablespoons of cream and perhaps a tablespoon of butter, along with a little more chopped tarragon and black pepper. I did this last step with the pan still over the heat so the corn scrapings would cook and not taste starchy.
The whole time the pan was on the fire, the kitchen smelled of corn, which was enormously appetizing, and — yes, indeed — the finished rice had absorbed enough corn broth that, even had I not added any kernels, the flavor would have been unmistakable. The popping crunch of the barely cooked corn, though, was something that I would have not wanted to miss. When we sat down to eat, Jackie suggested a few drops of lemon juice and, as usual, she was absolutely right. The extra brightness enhanced the dish without masking the pure flavor.
Next day, the (meager) leftovers, bound with a little bit of egg, grated parmesan and breadcrumbs, became deep-fried risotto balls (arancini, more or less), in which the corn aroma was no less marked, and no less alluring.