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.


Sicilian Tomato and Eggplant Rigatoni

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I love going to the farmers market, but I can’t count the number of times I’ve walked past all the beautiful fruit and vegetables and then stopped and thought, “but what am I actually going to cook?” Instead of standing in front of a crate of eggplants and Googling easy eggplant recipes – or just buying a muffin and a few peaches and calling it a day- I wanted to come up with a great summer dish that would make use of those abundant peak-of-summer vegetables.

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David inspects grilled eggplant for doneness.

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This recipe combines eggplant and sweet cherry tomatoes in a pasta that’s light, simple, and really flavorful. Instead of the classic summer go-tos, basil, mozzarella and balsamic, I used Sicilian flavors and ingredients- hot red pepper flakes, garlic, anchovy and golden raisins- and came up with a sauce that’s spicy, savory and just a little bit sweet. It’s almost like rigatoni with a summery caponata on top.

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I like to use a mix of red cherry tomatoes, for their color, and super sweet Sun-Gold tomatoes, for their super sweetness..

This pasta is great for potlucks and summer cookouts because it’s delicious both warm and at room temperature. If you’re planning ahead, you could even make the sauce and grill the eggplant in advance, and then cook the pasta and toss everything together at the last minute. And if you omit the anchovy paste, the pasta will not only be vegetarian, but vegan, too. (woooo!) That said, if you aren’t vegetarian, I highly recommend including the anchovy. It’s subtle, but adds great depth of flavor to the sauce.

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Sicilian Tomato and Eggplant Rigatoni

Ingredients

  • 2 small eggplants (1 1/2 lbs total), sliced into 1/2 inch rounds
  • 1/2 cup golden raisins
  • 1/3 cup sherry vinegar
  • 4 small garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
  • 1/2 tsp anchovy paste
  • 1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
  • 4 cups cherry tomatoes (2 pints)
  • 1 lb rigatoni
  • 1/3 cup pine nuts
  • 1/3 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Directions

  1. Prepare a charcoal grill with a single layer of hot coals, set a gas grill to medium-high heat, or heat a stovetop grill pan over medium-heat high. Brush the eggplant slices generously with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and grill for 3-5 minutes on each side, until charred and cooked through. Set aside to cool. Once the eggplant has cooled, cut each slice into 1-inch pieces.
  2. Meanwhile, make the sauce: In a small sauté pan, combine the raisins and vinegar and cook over low heat until the vinegar has completely evaporated, about 10 minutes. Set aside.
  3. In a large sauté pan, heat 1/3 cup olive oil, along with the garlic, anchovy paste, red pepper flakes, 1 tsp salt, and the tomatoes. Bring to a simmer and cook for 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the tomatoes have burst and are starting to break down. Add the eggplant and the raisins and cook for 5 more minutes.*
  4. Cook the rigatoni in a large pot of boiling salted water according to the directions on the package. Drain and pour the pasta into a large bowl. Add the sauce and toss well. Add the pine nuts and parsley, reserving about 2 tablespoons of each for the top, and toss gently. Sprinkle the pasta with the reserved pine nuts and parsley, sprinkle with salt, and serve warm or at room temperature.
  5. Note: The sauce can be made several hours in advance and brought back to a simmer just before you plan to cook the pasta.