Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Food: Fresh Corn Pesto

Since I grew up and am still living in the Midwest, late-July in more rural areas means driving down roads surrounded by miles and miles of tall, reed-like corn. Now granted, many of these fields contain feeder corn (i.e. not the version you or I would find appealing to eat), but nontheless, I've always viewed corn stalks as the signal of the summer harvest...Farm stands and local farmers markets are now open for business and I can finally purchase one of my summer favorites - locally grown sweet corn.

There's something about the look and taste of corn that just screams summer. First, the plant reminds me of the tropics, with thick, green, grassy stalks reaching towards the sky.
Then there's the golden sheen of the ear's kernels and the juicy sweetness of its crunch. It's just one of those warm weather pleasures that can't be outdone by anything else.

As tends to be a common theme with most of my postings, the ingredients and preparation of the dish below are super simple. And the concept is almost like combining corn chowder with pasta - where the pasta becomes the starch instead of potatoes and the corn becomes the creamy, rich pasta sauce. It's quite ingenious really, seeing as corn in a food processor gets quite creamy and you don't miss the rich and fatty cream whatsoever. Or at least I don't miss it anyway.

I've had cravings for this dish other times of the year when fresh corn isn't necessarily available. So using canned or frozen corn is an acceptable substitute (although canned will have a little better texture to it than the frozen). If you do happen to have fresh corn already (which should be in grocery stores or in your garden right now or the farmer's stand down the road) you should really make it with fresh.

By the way, we discovered this dish is fantastic with some of Zingerman's Chernuska Rye bread. I'm lucky enough to live close to their Ann Arbor bakehouse, but you could also order some of your own here if you wanted to further indulge your tastebuds.

Fresh Corn Pesto

Adapted from Epicurious

- 3 slices of bacon
- 4 c fresh corn kernels (cut from about 6 large ears)
(MM Tip: You can also use canned or frozen corn if you make this in the off-season)
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- Salt & Pepper to Taste
- 1/2 c freshly grated Parmesan cheese plus additional for serving
- 1/3 c walnuts, toasted
- 1/3 c extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 package of fettuccine

- Cook bacon in large nonstick skillet over medium heat until crisp and brown. Transfer to paper towels to drain. Pour off all but 1 tablespoon drippings from skillet.

- Add corn, garlic, salt, and pepper to the drippings in the skillet. Sauté over medium heat until corn is tender but not brown, about 4 minutes. Transfer 1 1/2 c corn kernels to small bowl and reserve.
- Scrape remaining corn mixture into processor. Add 1/2 c Parmesan and walnuts. With machine running, add olive oil through feed tube and blend until pesto is almost smooth. Set pesto aside.
- Cook pasta according to directions. Drain, reserving 1 1/2 c pasta cooking liquid. Return pasta to pot. Add corn pesto and reserved corn kernels. Toss pasta mixture over medium heat until warmed through, adding reserved pasta cooking liquid in 1/4 c increments to thin to desired consistency, 2 to 3 minutes. Season pasta to taste with salt and pepper.
- Serve pasta topped with additional parmesan, reserved bacon, and freshly chopped basil or parsley if desired. It's also pretty great with some thinly sliced green onions.

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