Spaghetti with Sweet Corn Pesto

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This may be the last weekend of the official summer season in the Hamptons, but as far as I’m concerned, summer isn’t over until the corn and tomatoes are gone and pumpkin mania takes over. September is a particularly magical month in the Hamptons, because for a few weeks, the weather seems to be absolutely perfect every day, and there are no packed beaches or traffic jams to accompany it. It’s hands-down my favorite month of year here.  So, in honor of the winding down of the insanity that is the Hamptons in August,  and the warm weeks ahead, I wanted to share my all-time favorite late-summer dinner: Spaghetti with Sweet Corn Pesto.

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What is sweet corn pesto, you ask? Let me explain. It’s a sauce that made the same way as traditional basil pesto, but with a few major differences. Instead of basil and pine nuts, I sauté fresh corn with some smashed garlic and blend it all together with Parmesan and olive oil to make a sauce that’s creamy, subtly sweet and savory.

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I love this pasta for so many reasons. It is a unique and heavenly way to use these superstar summer veggies, and a dish that is as impressive as it is simple. The pasta warms the tomatoes just enough to bring out their sweetness, and the panko crumbs toasted with red pepper flakes add just little bit of heat and crunch to each bite. I love having lot of different textures in the same dish, and this recipe has that nailed.

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And for me, this recipe also means slowing down and getting back in the kitchen after months of grilling and throwing together simple sides and salads. With sweet corn, cherry tomatoes and basil, this recipe is as summery as it gets, but it’s also a hearty and comforting dinner -perfect for early September nights with the first discernible chill in the air. Make this over the long weekend if it’s getting cool where you are, and serve the pasta in big bowls with red wine. I promise you’ll be happy you did.

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Spaghetti with Sweet Corn Pesto

Ingredients

 extra virgin olive oil
3 ½ cups fresh corn kernels (cut from 6 ears of corn)
2 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed with the flat side of a knife
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
½ cup panko (Japanese bread flakes)
¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
½ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1 pound spaghetti
2 pints cherry tomatoes, cut in half through the stem
½ cup fresh basil leaves, packed

Directions

In a large (12-inch) sauté pan, heat 3 tablespoons olive oil over medium-low heat. Add the corn, the garlic and 1/2 teaspoon salt and cook for 8-10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the corn is tender.

Remove ½ cup of the corn and set aside. Transfer the rest of the corn and garlic to the bowl of a food processor (or powerful blender such as a Vitamix) and allow to cool for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, make the spicy bread crumbs. Using a paper towel, wipe out the sauté pan you used to cook the corn, and heat 1 tablespoon olive oil over medium heat. Add the panko, crushed red pepper flakes and ¼ teaspoon salt. Cook, stirring very often, for 3-5 minutes, until the panko is golden brown. Remove to a small bowl to cool.

Add 1 ½ teaspoons salt and ½ teaspoon pepper to the corn and garlic and process until coarsely pureed. With the food processor running, add 3 tablespoons olive oil and process until smooth. Add the Parmesan and pulse until combined.

Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the spaghetti and cook according to the directions on the box. While the pasta cooks, wipe out the sauté pan again. Transfer the corn “pesto”  to the pan, add 1/4 cup of pasta water and bring to a simmer over low heat, stirring until smooth.

When the pasta is finished cooking, use tongs to transfer it to the sauté pan (do not drain!) and toss it with the sauce. Add the cherry tomatoes and reserved corn and toss again. Sprinkle a thin layer of panko crumbs over the pasta, tear the basil leaves into pieces, and scatter half of them over the pasta.  Serve immediately with remaining panko and basil on the side.


Roasted Cauliflower with Hazelnut Pesto

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Is it Spring yet? I want to say yes, but I keep going outside in light jackets and freezing all day long.  It’s also that time of year when I feel like I can’t even look at another bowl of soup or stew, but all the spring goodies, like rhubarb, asparagus, and fresh peas aren’t quite in season yet. So while I wait for Spring to arrive, I’ll be inside making Roasted Cauliflower with Hazelnut Pesto.

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I think it’s the perfect transition-month vegetable side. Cauliflower is still everywhere, and homemade pesto gives plain roasted cauliflower more of a “spring” in its step. Since we are light years away from basil season, making pesto with flat leaf parsley felt more seasonally appropriate, and I used hazelnuts instead of pine nuts, because cauliflower and hazelnuts together are the best.

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After the pesto is finished, I like to add another handful of hazelnuts to the food processor so there are big chunks throughout. You don’t have to do this if you prefer a smoother pesto, but I love added crunch of hazelnuts. Depending on how generously you douse your cauliflower, you may have some pesto leftover. I highly recommend doing as my friends Louisa and Franklin did, and spreading any extra on toast and putting a fried egg on top.

Roasted Cauliflower with Hazelnut Pesto

Ingredients

  • 1 medium head cauliflower, core removed and cut into bite size florets
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/3 cup plus 2 tbs hazelnuts
  • 1 tsp chopped garlic, (1 small clove)
  • 2/3 cup fresh flat-leaf parsley, roughly chopped
  • 5 tbs grated Pecorino Romano cheese

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
  2. Place the cauliflower in one layer on a sheet pan. Toss with 3 tablespoons olive oil, 3/4 teaspoon salt and ½ teaspoon pepper. Bake for 20 to 30 minutes, until the cauliflower is caramelized, tossing twice during baking.
  3. Meanwhile, make the pesto. Place 1/3 cup of the hazelnuts, the garlic, the parsley, 1/2 teaspoon of salt and ½ teaspoon pepper in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade. Process until the mixture forms a thick paste, about 1 minute. Add the cheese and pulse until combined. With the food processor running, slowly pour in the olive oil. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons hazelnuts and pulse until hazelnuts are roughly chopped.
  4. Spread pesto on a serving platter and spoon the cauliflower on top. Serve hot.