One of my favorite things to do in the kitchen is to take something expected or ordinary and to turn it on its side. I like funky. I like unique. I like different. I love to reimagine and refresh dishes that are tried and true. But I like to do so in a way that is still approachable for many people. I am interested in the foams, molecular gastronomy and avant garde presentations of such people like Wylie Dufresne and Grant Achatz, but I know that style of cooking doesn’t have universal appeal across this great land. And I know that for most people, the more comfortable you are with the general idea or ingredients, the more likely you are to approach a dish with an open mind and a willing fork.
So when I stumbled across a recipe for a fresh corn pesto, I was intrigued. This was right up my alley. Basil pesto has worked its way into our culinary vernacular and isn’t something that is too foreign/out there for most people. A fresh, summery combination of basil, pine nuts, garlic, Parmiggiano Reggiano and olive oil, pesto has become a go-to condiment for dressing pasta, basting chicken, or adding zip to dressings and marinades. And it is easy. Throw everything in a blender or food processor and viola! Instant sauce.
Now I’m no stranger to turning pesto on its side. In summers past, I’ve been known to whip up a variety of not-so-standard pestos including chive, lemon-parsley, cilantro, walnut-watercress – the list could go on and on. But I’d never attempted to make a pesto with something that could stand alone, like sweet corn. I was up for the experiment. I happily swung through my Italian grocer on the way home from work and picked up some tagliatelle and headed toward my nearby sweet corn stand.
Think of this as summer carbonara, minus the eggs. You start by frying up some bacon (bonus!) and sautéing the corn kernels in the reserved drippings (double bonus!). Never a bad way to go, my friends… Once the sweet kernels are lightly sautéed, into the food processor they go with the requisite pine nuts, Parmiggiano Reggiano, and olive oil. To me, most commercial pestos are too oily. I don’t like opening a container and seeing the Gulf of Mexico, oops, an oil slick, on top of my pesto. My rule of thumb with oils is always this – disregard the volume specified by the recipe. Add as much as you like for your own personal preference. In this case, I added just enough to move the pesto along in my food processor while still leaving a little texture. The resulting sauce was thick and creamy.
Back to the pan it went, where I added reserved corn kernels for extra texture. It is important to reserve a bit of the pasta cooking water. This normal throw-away provides a nice starchy way to thin out the sauce. The recipe states 1 ½ cups, but I found I was happy with the results with only 1 cup. Be sure to scrape the bottom of your pan too – nothin’ says lovin’ like bacon drippings on the bottom of a pan. Into the sauce went the cooked tagliatelle, the reserved bacon, and the fresh basil. Think of this as summer comfort on a plate.
tagliatelle with fresh corn pesto
recipe: adapted from Bon Appetit
4 bacon slices, cut into ½” pieces
6 ears of corn, kernels removed
2 large garlic cloves, finely minced
1 ¼ tsp. kosher salt
¾ tsp. freshly ground black pepper
½ c. finely grated Parmiggiano Reggiano
1/3 c. pine nuts, lightly toasted
Extra virgin olive oil
8 oz. tagliatelle
½ c. basil, finely chopped
Cook bacon in a large skillet over medium heat until crisp. Using a slotted spoon, remove bacon and set aside. If necessary/desired, pour off all but 1 Tbsp. bacon drippings. Add corn and sauté until tender, about 4 minutes. Add garlic, salt and pepper. Toss for about 30 seconds. Transfer about 1 ½ c. corn kernels to a bowl, set aside. Place remaining corn in a food processor. Add pine nuts and Parmiggiano Reggiano. With motor running, slowly stream in olive oil until desired consistency has been reached.
Prepare pasta according to package directions, reserving cooking water. Return pesto to skillet. Add reserved cooking water until sauce reaches desired consistency (again, I used about 1 c.), scraping the bottom of pan to remove any drippings. Add pasta, reserved bacon, reserved corn, and ¾ basil to the pan. Toss thoroughly to coat and season to taste. Place about 1 ½ c. pasta in each serving bowl. Top with remaining basil and serve warm.
Here’s to summer comfort (and bacon!)
All content and photographs © 2010 jb’s pour house