Caramelized Summer Corn and Zucchini

Every Thursday at Tierra Vegetables feels just like Christmas morning. I walk into the farm store to pick up my CSA box (Community Supported Agriculture) and never know what wonderful seasonal surprises await. The creative cooking juices start to flow at the sight of purple corn, red onions, green basil, and yellow summer squash.

This week brought the first harvest of purple corn-on-the-cob. This sweet corn is a cousin to the familiar yellow corn. “Some corn breeders are adding some of the old lost genetics for color back into sweet corn,” says Lee, co-owner of the Tierra Vegetables.

After pulling off the purple husk and peeling back the silk, purple kernels lined up in neat rows. Before cooking the corn, I bit into the raw kernels and noted a clear difference in flavor from the traditional yellow sweet corn. The purple corn had more to-the-tooth and a less sweet – more earthy taste. That is when the idea of caramelizing came to mind. I wanted to coax out the sweetness that lay hidden in its DNA and test the depth of flavor in this new corn variety. Additionally, as two parts of the Three Sisters, corn and zucchini complement each other perfectly.

I love the act of deglazing

Deglazing is alchemy. Whether it’s onions, shallots, mushrooms, or the veg of your choice, this technique adds depth to any dish and adds a flavor base guaranteed to have umami. The concept includes caramelizing by sauteing slowly to pull out the natural sugars, then using wine or lemon juice to deglaze or to incorporate the browning (fond) on the pan back into the vegetable.

This dish caramelizes the corn and lemon juice deglazes. The chunks of zucchini and the corn kernels reabsorb the flavors. Like I said, cooking alchemy!

caramelized zucchini and corn

Caramelized Summer Corn and Zucchini

Corn and zucchini married once again
Prep Time 15 mins
Cook Time 25 mins
Course antipasto, contorno
Cuisine Italian
Servings 4


  • 3 tbsp. olive oil plus more for garnish
  • 3 ears red or yellow corn, shucked and rinsed
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 3 small zucchini, cubed
  • salt to taste
  • 2 tbsp. lemon juice
  • a few fresh mint sprigs (basil works, too)


  • Shuck the corn, and using a sharp knife, shave off the kernels to remove them from the cob. Collect the kernels in a bowl. Set aside.
  • In a large saucepan, heat the olive oil and add the garlic. Heat for 1-2 minutes until garlic releases it aroma. Add the corn and zucchini. Reduce heat and cook uncovered for 15 minutes until the corn begins to caramelize and the zucchini begins to soften. Add a pinch of salt. Stir occassionally. As the corn begins to caramelize, a fond (light brown coating) will form on the bottom of the pan. This is just what you want; however, make sure it does not burn.
  • Deglaze with lemon juice. Pour the lemon juice into the pan. Stir right away. As you stir, the fond will begin to release from the bottom of the pan. Lots of flavors are contained in the fond that comes from caramelization, so we want to retain it and release it from the pan and mix it back into the corn and zucchini as they cook. After 1-2 minutes, when the lemon juice has mostly cooked off. remove from heat.
  • Serve with a few torn mint sprigs and a healthy glug of extra virgin olive oil. Serve as a side dish, over pasta. Can be refrigerated and served on a bed of lettuce greens.
    Happy summer!

Other summers treats:

Your comments are always welcome!