I adore fresh corn in the summer, but for most of my life, I never imaginged it paired with pasta until one of my favorite local restaurants had a summer special of fresh tortelloni filled with corn and ricotta. I loved that dish and it really got me thinking, though I knew I would never make my own stuffed pasta. Toothsome pasta with sweet pops of fresh local corn make for an excitingly simple summer supper that is unique but not too complicated. I love that this incredibly flavor full dish basically has five ingredients, but utilized in different ways, they create layers of flavor. The slightly smoky charred corn is a simple step but a beautifully complex layer. Fresh kernels softened in milk and set off by gently tangy green onion, with some bright fresh onion tops on top to add color and zest.
I have at times added a little thyme or marjoram to the milk and corn, but it is a little bit of gilding the lily when you want the corn flavor to really shine. I’ve also used half and half for a richer sauce, but milk is delightfully creamy. Pecorino gives a great salty hit without overpowering, which parmesan tends to do. I am partial to a sweet yellow corn, but a mix of yellow and white works well – only the color of your sauce will change. Orecchiette, or “little ears,” are perfect for this dish because they cradle the lovely little charred kernels in a pool of sauce. Shells or a mezze rigatoni could do the same thing.
Creamy Fresh Corn Pasta Sauce
4 ears corn, shucked
6 green onions, white and light green parts, with some green tops saved for topping
2 Tablespoons butter
1 cup whole milk
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
12 ounces orecchiette pasta
½ cup finely grated pecorino cheese
Char one cob of corn, either directly over the flame of a gas stove or under the broiler in the oven, turning the cob several times to get nice charred kernels. It will make some popping noises! Set the charred corn aside until cool enough to handle, then cut the kernels from the cob and separate.
Cut the kernels from 3 ears of corn and finely dice the green onions. Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium heat, then add the green onions. Sauté until soft and pale, about 5 minutes, then add the corn kernels and cook for a further 2- 3 minutes. Pour in the milk and bring to a bubble – don’t let it boil or the milk will curdle, just heat it through and cook for a few minutes to soften the corn. Season well with salt and generous grinds of black pepper. Transfer to the carafe of a blender. Remove the vent from the lid and it down with a tea towel. Blend until the sauce is completely smooth. Pour the sauce through a sieve back into the wiped-out skillet while you cook the pasta.
Bring a large pot of salted water to the boil, then add the orchiette and cook according to the package instructions until al dente. Scoop out about 1 cup of the pasta cooking water, then drain the pasta.
Heat the sauce over medium heat until hot through. Add the pasta and stir to coat, adding a little of the reserved pasta water to thin it out if needed. Taste again and season well – use lots of black pepper. Toss the charred corn kernels through the pasta and serve topped with the grated pecorino and thin slivers of green onion top.