Thursday, September 12, 2013

Summer Corn Pesto

It's the summer scramble!

I am now in that mode where I am trying to squeeze everything "summer" in before it technically fizzles away the 21st of September (and probably earlier than that because, afterall, this is New England). One of the most common occurrences at this time is that I will all of a sudden remember a summer recipe I love and say to myself (and occasionally out loud), 'oh shoot, I haven't made that yet!' This happens most particularly with recipes involving corn and tomatoes -- those most-fleeting pf summer crops. And since time is running out, I am going to share this recipe for Pasta with Fresh Corn Pesto, Tomatoes and Bacon with you so you can go out right now, buy yourself some corn, a few tomatoes, and some basil, and celebrate the last of summer with me.

I have made this recipe several times and every time I do I end up licking the bowl -- it is that good. The corn is tender and sweet, the bacon salty and crunchy, while the tomatoes and basil add a nice summery freshness to it. You could make this in the winter -- but it just won't taste the same. I adapted this from Bon Appetit's recipe -- I think mine's better but I wouldn't stop you from making both versions just to see :).

Fresh Corn Pesto Pasta with Tomatoes and Bacon

4 bacon slices, cut lengthwise in half, then crosswise into 1/2-inch pieces
6 ears of corn, corn removed from cobs^^
1 large garlic clove, minced
1 1/4 teaspoons coarse kosher salt
3/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1/3 cup toasted pine nuts
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
8 ounces tagliatelle or fettuccine

12 or so cherry tomatoes, halved
3/4 cup coarsely torn fresh basil leaves (reserve a few pieces to sprinkle on top)

^^ A mini lesson on removing corn from cobs. The tricks are: to use a very deep bowl to catch all your kernels in, and to use a big sharp chef's knife to cut down the sides. (See right). The bowl is the most essential because if you do not do this your entire kitchen and outfit will be showered in corn juice and kernels. Not fun to clean up, let me tell you. And I don't want you to be discouraged by that and decide not to make this. So use a big bowl. 

Heat up a big pot of salted water to boil your pasta in.
While that's going, put the raw bacon into a dry nonstick skillet over medium heat, and cook it until crisp and brown, stirring often (be careful because fat burns quickly, especially with the small pieces of bacon, so keep an eye on it). When it is finished, transfer it to paper towels to drain. Pour off all but 1 tablespoon drippings from skillet. **Side note -- do not pour excess bacon fat down the drain; it will kill your pipes. Just put in a small dish, wait for it to cool and harden, and scoop into the trash. You're welcome for saving you a whole new sink drain.

(Since we're pausing now anyway, this is a good time to put your pasta in the pot, if it's boiling. If you don't trust yourself to be able to keep an eye on this while doing the rest, then don't! Wait until you're done your pesto and then add the pasta. That is fine! It takes a lot of practice to get multiple-dish-component timing right.)

Add corn, garlic, 1 1/4 teaspoons coarse salt, and 3/4 teaspoon pepper to drippings in skillet (see left). Sauté over medium-high heat until corn is just tender but not brown (if it gets brown it gets chewy), for about 4 minutes. Transfer 1 1/2 cups corn kernels to small bowl and put it to the side. This will add texture to your pasta, as the rest of the corn will be blended up. Scrape remaining corn mixture into a food processor with pine nuts, your basil, and another pinch of salt. Turn it on and blend it up, until it looks pretty smooth (10 seconds or so). Scrape down the sides, add the parmesean cheese. Then put the top back on, and add olive oil through the hole in the top while the food processor is running. Once it gets pretty smooth and even (another 20 seconds or so, see right), and you now have: fresh corn pesto.

Add your pasta to the boiling water and cook according to package directions (remember you want al dente -- some bite but not raw). When draining it, reserve 1 cup of pasta water. Return the pasta to the pot and add: all the corn pesto, the corn you set aside, the cherry tomatoes, and some salt and pepper. Turn on the heat again under the pot, and start mixing: add pasta water (a little at a time) to help you spread that pesto all over. Once everything is incorporated and the pesto is clinging to the pasta, it's ready to serve. Make sure it is seasoned right (add more salt now if you want it), and then scoop out into bowls, decorating with a few pieces of fresh basil.

And I just so happened to have some pretty tomatoes from my farm share today, so I could stage that nice picture. So completely summer, right? Enjoy!

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