The present of some corn cobs “as corny as Kansas in August”, well super fresh off the stalk, was a Proustian madeleine moment, albeit my Memory Lane was Route 66 through another US state – Arizona – and my emblematic longing was for a swirling, ‘tricoleur’ soup. Created bizarrely by a chef originally from Hartlepool.
The flashback sent me scuttling to the kitchen to recreate it, but first some context. It was exactly a decade ago. The latest leg of an epic road trip was from Sante Fe westward to the Grand Canyon. We had skirted Albuquerque on Interstate Highway 40 – the flat, straight blacktop that was supposed to demote the legendary Route 66 to a mere backroad. But, of course, the much-covered song and the iconic image live on, albeit a mite cheesily.
Altogether now: “If you ever plan to motor west, travel my way, the highway that’s the best. Get your kicks on Route 66!” When journeyman songwriter Bobby Troup (previous hit Snootie Little Cutie) penned this ditty in 1946 did he ever imagine its future mileage?
In the April I had stood on Adams Street, Chicago, in front of the Arts Institute, starting point of the 2,500 mile highway which runs south then west all the way to Los Angeles. Did I ever imagine three months later I’d be rejoining it in a place called Winslow, Arizona. Cue another song, another legend.
First track on The Eagles’ eponymous 1972 debut album was Take It Easy. One line, ‘Standing on the Corner in Winslow, Arizona’ put the town on the map. A girl in a flatbed Ford slows down to take a look at a horny hitchhiker who dreams that her sweet love might save him. I don’t expect it ended well… but a legacy remains.
On the corner of Kinsley Avenue and 2nd Street on Route 66 you can pose with a statue of the hitchhiker, backed by a mural of the lusted-after Ford girl… oh and across the road buy a tee-shirt in the gift shop.
We decamped to Winslow’s memorial of better times – the Posada Hotel, a wonderfully elegant, restored 1930s hacienda, pet project of prolific artist Tina Mion and her husband. He artwork and a plethora of local craft fills what was the last great railway hotel built along the Santa Fe line. Amtrak trains still thunder through. We lunched in the Turquoise Room restaurant where much-travelled, Hartlepool-born chef John Sharpe had won huge acclaim, even a James Beard nomination, for his interpretations of South Western cuisine and Slow Food.
John retired a couple of years ago, but his kitchen team and the core menu remain in place. I’ve just checked. The chillies, tomatillos and tamales stand-up for the South Western high desert heritage alongside some big, big flavours. One $40 main combines crispy, fried quail with an orange Oaxaca sauce, Colorado farm-raised venison medallion with a black currant brandy sauce, a chipotle tamale topped with a pork, venison and bison chili. Finished with a fresh vegetable medley.
I’m glad I don’t have to tackle that challenge. The object of my desire is a black and yellow emblem in a bowl with a scrawled red pepper ‘signature’. Two soups, spicy black bean and creamy corn.
Exquisite. As was Winslow itself – a sleepy, dream America heirloom strip. Just the plc to take it easy.
Black bean soup
500g black beans; ½ tspb ancho chili powder; 1tsp ground cumin; ½tsp oregano; ½tsp marjoram; ½tsp ground coriander; ½tsp ground white pepper; 1 bay leaf; 15g diced
white onions; 1tsp salt; 1tbsp chopped garlic; 2tbsp unsalted butter; 1litre water.
Wash and soak the beans in cold water overnight. Place beans and the rest of the ingredients into a large pot. Bring to a boil and simmer for 1½ hours or until beans are tender. Remove the bay leaf and discard. Cool the beans and place them in a blender and blend until smooth. Dilute with water as needed. The soup can be made a day in advance.
Sweet Cream of Corn Soup
1kg corn; 350g sliced white onions; 50g butter; ½litre water; 750ml heavy cream, 1tsp salt
Find the freshest corn you can and cut it off the cob making sure you scrape the cob to extract all of the milk. This is the sweetest part of the corn. Sauté the onions in a thick bottomed pan until soft but not brown. Add the rest of the ingredients and bring to a boil. Simmer for 10 minutes and remove from the heat. Place in a blender and puree till smooth. If the corn is not sweet add a little sugar. This may be done ahead of time and kept warm in a double boiler.
Red Pepper Stripe
250ml soured cream; 60g roasted peppers; 1tsp chipotle peppers; salt and pepper to taste. Blend together.
Due to the starch in both soups, they will thicken as they sit. It is important that they be of the same consistency so you may need to adjust them by adding a small amount of hot water. You want to serve the soup in the same bowl, with the bean on one side and corn on the other. So, place the soups side by side on the counter. Using a separate soup ladle for each soup, scoop a ladle of each and pour into the bowl at the same time, and at the same speed.
As a garnish squeeze the Red Pepper Stripe on top. Best served with cornbread fresh from the skillet.