Look Who’s Cooking: Realtor, philanthropist Rob Cohn puts his mark on classic clam chowder

  • Rob Cohn, president of Cohn & Company Real Estate, prepares clam chowder and a side dish of stuffed pasilla peppers, grilled swordfish accompanied by watermelon salsa, and fresh local corn. For the Recorder/Dick Wedegartner

  • Rob Cohn, president of Cohn & Company Real Estate, specializes in clam chowder, Cohn style. For the Recorder/Dick Wedegartner

  • Stuffed pasilla peppers, prepared for a dinner party by Rob Cohn, president of Cohn & Company Real Estate. For the Recorder/Dick Wedegartner

  • Ingredients for clam chowder, Cohn style, are assembled stove side. For the Recorder/Dick Wedegartner

  • WEDEGARTNER

For the Recorder
Published: 9/18/2018 3:54:40 PM

When most people in Franklin County think of Rob Cohn, president of Cohn & Company Real Estate in Greenfield, they think of a longtime successful real estate agent and businessman or philanthropist, with a history of supporting local health care and public education as chairman of the Greenfield Community College board of trustees and president of the Greenfield Education Foundation.

They do not think knowledgeable foodie, wine collector and accomplished gourmet cook. Yet, one can hardly have a conversation with Cohn that doesn’t eventually have a discussion of food.

He did not set out to be involved in the real estate business. His college education started with a major in the hotel and restaurant management and ended with a degree in psychology, “to see if I could figure out what made me tick.” Judging by his reputation as a lover of fine cooking, it is food that makes him tick.

When Look Who’s Cooking caught up with Cohn, he was beginning to prepare food for a dinner party that he and his wife, Mary, were hosting the following evening. Among the menu items would be a clam chowder, Cohn style, and a side dish of stuffed pasilla peppers, grilled swordfish accompanied by watermelon salsa, and fresh local corn.

Clam Chowder Cohn Style is a version of New England clam chowder. Perhaps Joseph C. Lincoln, a noted Cape Cod author in the 1930s and ’40s, described clam chowder best: “A New England clam chowder, made as it should be, is a dish to preach about, to chant praises and sing hymns and burn incense before. To fight for. The Battle of Bunker Hill was fought for — or on — clam chowder; part of it at least, I am sure it was. It is as American as the Stars and Stripes, as patriotic as the national Anthem. It is ‘Yankee Doodle in a kettle.’”

Roxann: Do you remember the first thing you ever cooked?

Rob: Yes. It was chocolate chip cookies in a hurricane in 1954 when I was 7 years old. I was bored; we were lucky that we hadn’t lost our electricity. I’ve been hooked on cooking ever since.

RW: What are your signature dishes that family and friends request most?

RC: There’s not a lot I can’t do. Mostly I don’t get specific requests. People are just glad to be invited. But I draw inspiration from our travels or whatever is in season. I grow my own herbs so I look for things I can use them in.

RW: Do you have cooking techniques or a set of principles you follow?

RC: I suppose I do. The best things we eat and cook are easy. I’m not crazy about the complicated stuff. I no longer use salt in any dish I prepare, and I hardly ever use a sauce these days. I never measure anything; I just do it. I try to assemble and prep every ingredient before I begin to cook. You’re more organized that way. It’s not a cooking technique, but I clean as I go. I need a clean space to cook in.

RW: You’re cooking New England Clam Chowder today. Everyone seems to have an opinion about cooking chowder or what makes good chowder. What’s special about your recipe?

RC: I always liked clam chowder, but I never made it until about two years ago. I adapted this recipe from one that a friend gave me.

I use only Peter Luger’s extra thick sliced bacon that I buy from Foster’s Supermarket. Most chowders have too many potatoes. This one does not. I use one large potato and I dice it into small pieces. Most chowders are also too thick. I make a bit of white roux to thicken the soup and I don’t use too much milk or cream. It’s always 2 percent milk and light whipping cream along with clam juice.

Frankly, I usually use quality canned clams; using fresh clams is too much work and they’re not always that fresh. I may add a couple of fresh ones just before serving. I use dried herbs. They add more flavor in the chowder than a fresh herb, which is more delicate.

And lastly, I’m not afraid to add new things to it if something is good and in season — but never tomatoes. This recipe has fresh carrots and corn because I like them and they’re good right now.

RW: Tell me about the peppers as a side dish.

RC: They’re easy. Again, it’s a recipe that a friend gave me. You can make them as an appetizer or as a side dish. I like them as an unusual side dish with meat or fish. The pasilla pepper is a very mild hot pepper. They’re in season right now along with a lot of other spicier peppers. The best place — the only place — to buy those peppers is the Bars Farm stand in Deerfield.

Clam Chowder Cohn Style

Ingredients:

3 medium onions, chopped

3 to 4 celery ribs, chopped

2 medium carrots, grated

1 red bell pepper, chopped

1 to 2 potatoes, depending on their size, cut into small chunks

½ lb. thick cut bacon, chopped

½ stick unsalted butter

½ cup Wondra quick-mixing flour

1 quart of 2 percent milk

1 quart of light cream

3 cans of chopped clams

Reserved clam juice from the clams

2 T ground black pepper

2 T ground thyme

1 T tarragon

4 bay leaves

3 T of Worcestershire sauce

1 T of Sriracha sauce

Chop the vegetables and set them aside. Strain the clams, reserving the clam juice.

In a large soup pot, cook the bacon until slightly crisp. Next, add butter, onions and celery. Cook until the onions are translucent. Add flour, stirring constantly until it reaches the consistency of a thin roux. You do not want the roux to turn brown.

Add the clams, clam juice, milk, heavy cream, the rest of the chopped vegetables, black pepper, thyme, tarragon, bay leaves, Worcestershire sauce, and Sriracha sauce. Cook at a high simmer for 15 minutes, while stirring frequently.

To serve, ladle the chowder into bowls and garnish it with a bit of snipped fresh thyme. You can make the chowder ahead to serve later. Makes 12 to 16 servings.

Colby’s Easy Stuffed Pasilla Peppers

Ingredients:

As many pasilla peppers as you need. For a side dish, two per person is best.

Soft goat cheese

Crisp, cooked, crumbled bacon

Note: This version is made with goat cheese and bacon. There are other cheeses and mix-ins you can use such as ricotta and pistachio nuts or Mexican cheeses such as queso blanco or cotija, softened and crumbled, and pepitas (roasted pumpkin seeds).

Prepare a grill and heat to high (about 450 degrees). Cut the whole peppers with stems lengthwise down one side and pry them open slightly. Clean out the seeds and white “ribs,” holding the seeds. This helps prevent the peppers from tasting too spicy.

Stuff each pepper with the cheese and add your mix-in. Grill the peppers, turning once or twice, until the skin blisters and the peppers are soft. Serve.

In the “Look Who’s Cooking!” monthly column, Roxann interviews and shares the recipes of people from around Franklin County who may be well-known in their professional or political lives, but not necessarily for their lives as passionate cooks, bakers or all-around foodies. Roxann can be reached by email at roxanndw6@yahoo.com.


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