Grilled Corn Carbonara

Following tradition, I made my once yearly trek to Boston and spent a fabulous 4th of July weekend with my sister. At the airport I stocked up on all of my in-flight essentials (mentos, popcorn, sparkling water, food magazines) and during the whole 55 minutes of the flight, I flipped through the most recent issue of Food and Wine Magazine, the America’s Greatest Chefs Issue. The bio and recipes from Tim Maslow caught my eye immediately, not only because his restaurant Ribelle is located in Boston but also because he included a recipe for a corn carbonara pasta dish. “How intriguing!”  I thought as the pilot announced our final descent and I stowed the magazine away in my carryon bag.

Now this is the part of the story where you would expect me to go and dine at Ribelle and try the restaurant’s renowned food for myself, and maybe even meet the chef in person where I would tell him how I just read his bio earlier that day. But that’s not what happened. We instead went to Giulia (again) for one of the best meals I’ve ever eaten (again). But I digress. So, although a trip to Ribelle was pushed to the “next time” agenda, that corn carbonara recipe kept nagging at me somewhere in the back on my mind saying, “make this NOW!”

So I did.

This carbonara goes against all rules that define carbonara. It has no dairy and it has no egg but instead gets an ethereally smooth and creamy texture from a sauce made of straight-up corn puree. I added an extra step as well and grilled the corn first to add a bit of a smoky and caramelized flavor. The combination of the sweet corn sauce with salty bacon, shallot and garlic and a specialty cracked pepper fettuccine that I found at the farmers market made for a flavor that is the essence of summer in one comforting and indulgent bite. Maslow pairs his version with jumbo lump crabmeat, but I left it out. However that or grilled scallops or some roasted shrimp would all be welcome additions. Pair with a simple salad or some steamed asparagus and you’ll be living the good life for sure!

Grilled Corn Carbonara
Serves 4-6
Adapted Tim Maslow via Food and Wine Magazine

8 ears of corn, shucked
1 lb spaghetti, fettuccine, or linguine
2 Tbs. olive oil or butter
¼ lb bacon, cut into a small dice
2 shallots, minced
2 cloves of garlic, thinly sliced
1 Tbs. lemon juice plus the zest for serving
salt and pepper
olive oil, smoked paprika and parmesan, for serving

Lightly brush the corn with olive oil and grill over medium hear either on an indoor grill pan or an outdoor grill. Rotate frequently until lightly charred on all sides. Remove and set aside to cool slightly.

Using a sharp knife, cut the kernels off the corncobs making sure to scrape all of the juice and pulp from the cobs. Transfer the kernels and corn juice to a blender and blend on high speed until you have a smooth puree. Thoroughly strain through a fine mesh sieve and set the puree aside.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and cook the pasta until al dente. Once ready, reserve 2 cups of the cooking water and drain the pasta. Set this aside as well.

In the same pot used for the pasta, heat the olive oil or butter over medium. Add the bacon and cook until crisp, about 7 minutes. At this point you can discard a bit of the grease by mopping up with a paper towel, if desired. Add the shallots and garlic and cook, stirring constantly, until soft, about 3 more minutes.

Add in the pasta, the corn puree, 1¼ cups of the reserved water, and the lemon juice. Cook over a medium heat, while tossing with tongs, until the sauce is thick, 3-5 minutes, adding more of the pasta water if needed. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve in bowls with a drizzle of olive oil, freshly grated parmesan, and a dash of smoked paprika. 

Corn for the Gold

It’s amazing to consider the epic change that occurs amongst the world’s inhabitants every two years. Suddenly people like me, who don’t outwardly show much pride in their country on a normal daily basis, are standing in front of their television, pumping their fists, and shouting Go! Go! GO! USA! USA! Suddenly I don’t mind watching sports in the least bit; I actually enjoy it and take the time to really appreciate and admire the skills and extraordinary physical fitness of the athletes, our real-life action superheroes. And suddenly, fun stories like these arrive on the Internet.

I’ve been slightly bitter about the Olympics this time around, however. The incessant and ever-constant images of London, my second home, on the TV screen bring out this intense yearning that pulls at my very heartstrings. I’m unnecessarily jealous of all of the American tourists that are there while I am not. Though I know it is currently a very different London right now than I probably remember, I’d do anything to be there all the same. Yet despite my affections for the host country, I am still automatically rooting hard-core for the American athletes and getting slightly emotional whenever they play our national anthem at a medals ceremony. What can I say; the Olympics bring out different sides of people.

For example, they make me want to do things like work out more (though I think that applies to everyone) or take up hobbies like archery or skeet shooting. Also, counterproductive to the previously mentioned urges, they really make me want American food, as if summer didn’t already create that craving. So to embrace these few weeks of hyper-Americanism, I am cooking and eating in the fashion of the US of A. It’s BLT’s for lunch, burgers for dinner, and a craving for all things barbeque. And of course you can’t have American cuisine with out the summer favorite, those golden ears of milky and juicy sweet corn.

Just last week I had grilled corn for the first time ever. I placed the ear or corn on my plate, not thinking twice about the blistered and blackened kernels, freckling the cob with a gap-toothed grin. The remaining kernels, on second thought, looked different too. Were they deeper yellow than I remembered, a glistening golden hue almost shimmering like the light of sunset?  One bite was enough to inform me that this corn was on a totally different playing field than its boiled or steamed alternative. Grilling corn somehow intensifies the flavor by a tenfold. It’s sweeter, but not overwhelming; it’s a sophisticated sweet. It’s like caramel that has been cooked to the point right before it begins to burn where it becomes concentrated and smoky. The individual kernels swell with steam and boiling juices so that this caramelized liquid bursts the moment it hits the impact of the teeth. I unashamedly sucked the juices from the empty cobs to savor every bit of the new and mind-blowing flavor. From now on, it’s so long to boiled corn. Grilling is my method of choice now.

Its amazing how roasting and grilling, that high heat and that little bit of fire and smoke, can turn what may be a perfectly delicious vegetable or fruit into something that just simply goes above and beyond. It creates the Olympic athletes of food, with flavor that, like the athlete’s skills, seem almost beyond possibility. And it may just me my own opinion, but I think that grilled corn gets the gold every time.

Grilled Corn (and an optional salad preparation)
3 ears of corn with husks attached

for roasted corn and goat cheese salad
(serves two)
corn cut from the 3 ears
2 Tbs. softened butter
salt and pepper
¼-½ tsp of cumin
zest of half a lime
½ cup cherry or pear tomatoes, halved
¼ cup goat cheese
½ cup dry spelt or other grain of choice, cooked according to package instructions
a handful of arugula
juice of half a lime

Soak the corn in water for about 15 minutes. Then after taking them out and shaking them dry, carefully peel back the husk of the corn down to the bottom so that they remain intact and pull off the inner silks. Brush the corn with a little olive oil and pull the husks back up. Place the corn onto a preheated grill with a medium flame. Cook for 15-20 minutes, turning occasionally. While the corn cooks combine the butter, salt, pepper, desired amount of cumin, and lime zest in a bowl and mash into a paste.

Once the corn is cooked, remove from the grill and place onto a platter. Carefully peel back the husks and brush the butter mixture onto the hot corn. You can also place the naked corn back onto the grill for a few more minutes if you want more caramelization. Remove the husks completely and then cut off the kernels of the corn into a bowl. Add the tomatoes, goat cheese, grains, arugula, and lime juice to the bowl and toss to combine. Add any additional salt and pepper to taste.