In our neck of the country, no food combo screams summer quite as loudly as the holy trinity of sweet, fresh corn, tomatoes and basil. The Hubs and I try to eat them as often as we can during the short growing season. So finding a version of this recipe from Milk Street was welcome news.
The ingredients in this summery pasta dish are few, so fresh corn and ripe tomatoes are key. To create a creamy sauce without cream, grate the corn kernels from the cobs. To reinforce the corn flavor, boil the cobs in the water that is later used to cook the pasta. Using a minimal amount of water—just 2½ quarts—means the flavors and starches are concentrated in the liquid, and you put some of this liquid to good use in the sauce.
Yellow corn gives the dish a golden hue, but white corn—which is what we had at the time—works jut as well. Whichever you use, make sure to remove as much of the silk as possible before grating.
Twisty, fluted, or frilly eye-catching pasta shapes are best here—if you can’t find cellentani (a delightful corkscrew-shaped pasta), look for gemelli, cavatappi or campanelle. With its tubular center and ridged surface, cellentani is perfect for a hearty pasta meal, capturing every drop of the flavorful sauce and trapping the grated corn kernels in every delicious forkful.
I know many of you may turn your nose when a habañero chili is listed in the ingredients. But do not fear. In this dish it does add a little heat (seeding the chili removes much of its burn), but it’s here mostly because its fruity notes are a nice complement to the corn, tomatoes and basil. Please do not omit it.
I made the mistake of using the entire one-pound box of cellentani instead of just 12 ounces which is what the recipe called for. The Hubs questioned me as I was making the dish, but at that point it was too late, I’d already cooked the pasta. I believe it would be best with the lesser amount.
Next time, I would also add another ear or two of corn, but with those, don’t grate, rather slice the kernels whole off of the cob and mix them in. It would give a bit more tooth to the overall texture. Finally, we also felt a garnish of grated Pecorino Ramono provided another layer of depth to the flavor profile and a hint of saltiness.
Cellentani with Sweet Corn, Tomatoes and Basil
- 1 pint grape or cherry tomatoes, halved
- Kosher salt and ground black pepper
- 4 ears corn, husked
- 4 Tbsp. (½ stick) salted butter, cut into 4 pieces, divided
- 2 medium shallots, minced
- 1 habañero chili, stemmed, seeded and minced
- 12 oz. cellentani (or gemelli, cavatappi, campanelle)
- 2½ quarts water
- 1 cup chopped fresh basil
- In a small bowl, stir together the tomatoes and ½ teaspoon salt; set aside. Set a box grater in a large bowl or pie plate. Using the grater’s large holes, grate the corn down to the cobs; reserve the cobs.
- In a large pot, bring 2½ quarts water to a boil. Add the corn cobs and 1 tablespoon salt, reduce to medium and cook, covered, for 10 minutes. Using tongs, remove and discard the cobs, then remove the pot from the heat.
- In a 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium, melt 2 tablespoons of butter. Add the grated corn, shallots, chili and 1 teaspoon salt. Cook, stirring, until the shallots have softened, about 5 minutes. Stir in 1½ cups of the cooking water. Cook over medium-low, uncovered and stirring occasionally, until slightly thickened (a spatula should leave a brief trail when drawn through the mixture), 10 to 15 minutes.
- Meanwhile, return the remaining corn-infused water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook, stirring occasionally, until al dente. Reserve 1 cup of the cooking water, then drain the pasta. Add the pasta to the skillet and cook over medium, stirring constantly, until the pasta is coated and the sauce is creamy, about 2 minutes; if needed, add the reserved cooking water 2 tablespoons at a time to reach proper consistency.
- Off heat, add the remaining 2 tablespoons butter, the tomatoes with their juices and the basil, then toss until the butter has melted. Taste and season with salt and pepper.
Recipe found on Milk Street