Monday, July 12, 2021

Cooking from the Summer Pantry: Pasta with Cherry Tomatoes, Corn & Pesto

I have been a bit bummed about my lack of attention to my blog…for some time now if I’m honest…but especially in recent months.  Over the past few years I have reduced the number of posts simply because I just don’t have the time to invest in it like I once did.  But during the pandemic I haven’t really had much in the way of new cooking/recipes to post.  The cooking I do for private dinners and new classes has been radically reduced (for a while it disappeared entirely).  The cooking I do for myself has been mostly cooking tried and true items (many of which I have already posted!).  My pandemic year (going on two, now…) has been spent cooking a lot of never-to-be-duplicated meals which are made up of leftovers from online classes (since I don’t serve tastings for those classes) and cooking from my pantry in an effort to minimize time spent out and about.  So the meals have been what some might consider boring (not blog-worthy?).  

Despite this feeling that the things I have made might not be interesting enough for my blog, I have never felt deprived by these meals:  they have been delicious!  And I have realized that in many respects the kind of cooking I have done for myself during this time is exactly the kind of skill I have always wanted to impart in my classes and on my blog.  It is, in fact, really cooking.  It is a cuisine of daily inspiration from what you have on hand—made possible from a lifetime of cooking that has produced an abundance of taste memory and a set of well-honed kitchen skills.  

Unfortunately this kind of skill can’t be acquired through a class, food TV, or a blog… unless you are engaging in the activity itself after you watch or read.  But—in the hope that people are cooking—I will continue (when I can!) to do on my blog what I have always done:  teach skills (see my catalog of basic techniques…as well as the incidental skills included in almost every single post) and describe as best as I am able how I arrived at a certain result (which I try to do in most of my posts and recipes). 

Today’s post is in the spirit of this kind of daily cooking.  It is not new…or exciting.  It is just my predictable favorite: pasta.  But it made a satisfying summer meal.  And it came together quickly and easily because it was just a matter of pulling together a bunch of stuff I had in my pantry… and applying techniques I use in the kitchen all the time.   

As I scanned my pantry Saturday there was a lot to choose from.  (The truth is that if you cook regularly, you will almost always have the means at your disposal to make some kind of a meal.)  Much of what I had required more cooking than I was in the mood for.  But my eyes fell on the last of some pesto that I had made for a quick meal for a client (it was carrot top pesto…but any green “herb” pestobasil, arugula, kalewould have been good) and some corn that I had “roasted” while I had the grill on to make a pizza a few days ago.  

Early in my career I started keeping a spiral bound notebook to jot down things I cooked or baked at home (I had other notebooks for the professional kitchens in which I worked).  This is a great practice when you are learning to cook.  Record your successes and your failures…along with a note or two about why it was a success or failure. (Make notes in your cookbooks too.)  All of this knowledge will come in handy and help hone your skills.  I have referred back to mine many times over the years.  It has been a while since I made an entry.  I probably should have been keeping notes in it during this past year.  (I actually have kept notes…knowing that many of the meals will be turned into recipes for my classes and clients.  Unfortunately they are on random pieces of paper that I will have to hunt for when I want them.)  Anyway, the pesto and roasted corn reminded me of a pasta that I was pretty sure I had jotted down in that notebook.  

When I looked, I found that I had. What I made wasn’t an exact duplicate of the original (I think I sautéed the corn in the original…and I’m certain I didn’t use carrot top pesto)…but having my notes filled out the rest of the flavors of the dish:  cherry tomatoes (always on my counter in the summer)…as well as standard pantry items (garlic, olive oil, vinegar, herbs and Parmesan/Pecorino). 

The method I used to prepare/warm the cherry tomatoes is from a long ago favorite from the book Chez Panisse Pasta, Pizza & Calzone by Alice Waters.  Cherry tomatoes are halved and warmed gently (they should hold their shape) in a generous quantity of olive oil, finished with vinegar, tossed with long thin pasta and topped with a shower of toasted breadcrumbs.  If you have an abundance of beautiful, tiny cherry tomatoes, Waters’ pasta is a great dish to make. 

For my pasta I started with Waters’ method for the tomatoes...then added a tiny clove of chopped garlic and my roasted corn...and warmed everything through.  I let it sit off the heat while I cooked the pasta so that the ingredients would have a chance to get to know one another.  When the pasta was done I combined this “sauce” with the pasta, pesto, pasta water, and a handful of arugula (chopped).  I topped it all with a finely grated mix of Parmesan and Pecorino. 

I will make it again.  I hope others will give it a try too.  But mostly, I hope people will be inspired to get into the kitchen and cook—even if it’s just something simple and “boring.” 

Pasta with Cherry Tomatoes, Corn & Pesto 

For 1 portion (multiplies easily for more):

1 1/2 to 2 T. olive oil
1/2 c. (75 to 85 g.) small cherry tomatoes, halved
A very small clove of garlic, minced
1 t. sherry vinegar (red or white wine vinegar will work, too)
1/2 c. (75 g.) cooked (roasted…grilled….) corn kernels
90 g. gemelli, gigli, fusilli (long or short cut), or strozzapreti—any noodle with some nice nooks and crannies will work
2 T. pesto
2 to 3 T. chopped arugula (or basil)
Parmesan and/or Pecorino, finely grated

Place the oil, tomatoes, garlic and a generous sprinkling of salt in a sauté pan large enough to hold the pasta and vegetables.
  Gently warm until the tomatoes have begun to soften slightly (but aren’t losing their shape.  Add the corn along with several grindings of pepper and heat through.  Add the vinegar and toss to combine.  Taste and correct the seasoning.  Remove from the heat and let sit while the pasta cooks. 

Cook the pasta in a large pot of well salted water until al dente.
  When the pasta is cooked, scoop out some of the pasta water and set aside.  Drain the pasta and add to the pan of vegetables along with the pesto, a tablespoon or two of the pasta water and the chopped arugula.  Toss until the pasta and vegetables are coated in a light, fluid, pesto-y sauce. Transfer to a serving plate and top with Parmesan and/or Pecorino.

  If you don’t have a sauté pan large enough to hold the vegetables and pasta, you can toss the pasta with the sauce/vegetables in the pot in which you cooked the pasta.  Just drain the pasta (not forgetting to save some of the water) and return it with the sauce to the pot.

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