May 17, 2010

Pasta With Creamy Corn

Corn plus chicken broth and a tiny bit of cheese equals an excellent alternative to Alfredo sauce...

Use corn and chicken or vegetable stock to create a pasta sauce that is nutritious and delicious.

I got the idea for this type of sauce from a Rachael Ray Show episode. "Brilliant," I thought. So I decided to try something like it a few weeks ago. Such a tasty meal that was! And it's relatively simple to concoct. Don't let the long list of instructions in the recipe worry you. When I write the recipes I post, often I will go into the details of the process because I want it to be easy to follow for  readers, including those who don't often read recipes (there's a common lingo for typical recipes that isn't necessarily intuitive to everyone).

This meal consists of three main parts:
   1. Long pasta (fettuccine, linguine, or spaghetti).
   2. A corn-based creamy sauce.
   3. Vegetables and optional meat.
The supporting acts in this show are the herbs and a little bit of cheese.

Pasta: I recommend you avoid angel hair pasta because the sauce and vegetables will overwhelm such a thin pasta. Most other long (but thick/wide) pastas will work very well: I used a mix of linguine, fettuccine, and spaghetti because I only had small amounts of each. Substituting short-cut pastas like fusilli, orecchiette, farfalle, or another type that will hold the sauce and vegetables well would probably be a good variation. I have not yet tried that.

Sauce: The sauce includes two cups of frozen corn kernels and some chicken or vegetable stock--all whipped up in a blender until creamy. It's easy. Just be sure the blender lid is securely in place before you start the blender. I recommend covering it with your hand to hold it in place, just in case. (Note: I used 1 cube of chicken bouillon dissolved in 1 cup of water to make the broth.) Late in the making of this dish, you'll add 1/2 cup shredded mozzarella cheese. The cheese contributes just enough extra flavor and some added texture.

Vegetables: There are few limits to the types of vegetables that would do nicely in this dish. I used corn, scallions, and red bell pepper. That's simple enough (and there's a heap of flavor in just that combination). Other options include green bell pepper (or peppers that aren't so mild as bell peppers, if you'd like to heat things up a bit), carrots, red onion, peas, green beans, broccoli, or spinach. You can steam them (for instance, if you use peas or green beans) or saute them (chopped carrots, red onion, and spinach would do well sauteed) to soften them up nicely. Just watch the amounts you use, being sure that the ingredients will be sufficiently coated (to your taste) with the creamy corn sauce.

A note about the meat: I heated up some mini (3-inch diameter) round slices of ham--till they were lightly brown--then I chopped them up and added them to the sauce. I found this added a nice savory taste and pretty color to the dish. For a vegetarian version, though, you can certainly omit the ham (and use vegetable stock instead of chicken broth). If you want to make it extra meaty, you could use a mix of meats like cooked bacon (about 4 slices--discard the drippings, or reserve about one tablespoon as a substitute for the olive oil used for sauteing), browned ground beef (about 1/2 cup), cooked chicken (about 1/2 cup, shredded or cubed), Canadian bacon (about 5 slices), or even sliced sandwich meats (several thin slices can be heated, in a way similar to the instructions below). Or use just one meat from that list.

Spices and Herbs: This meal is surprisingly flavorful--the corn has such a nice, sweet, almost buttery flavor, and the scallions and peppers enhance the dish with their savory flavor and tangy sweetness. The three spices listed below blend together well. However, you can also experiment with other spices (in small amounts) like oregano, crushed red pepper flakes, cumin, or rosemary.

Side ideas: Garlic bread, steamed broccoli, or a salad.

Pasta With Creamy Corn
Estimated time: 45 minutes
Serves: 4

  • 1/2 pound (about 2" diameter, held in a fist) long pasta (like linguine, fettuccine, or spaghetti)
  • 5 mini round ham slices (optional)
  • 1 cup chicken or vegetable stock (option: dissolve 1 chicken bouillon cube in 1 cup water)
  • 5 cups frozen corn kernels (about a 2-pound bag)
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 bunch scallions (about 6 stalks) (note: scallions are sometimes called green onions)
  • 1/2 large red bell pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried dill weed
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried basil
  • 1/2 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
  • Grated parmesan cheese
  • Salt and pepper

1. Place a large pot of water on medium-high heat to bring to a boil for cooking the pasta.
2. Meanwhile, heat the mini ham slices in another pot over medium heat for 3 minutes.
3. Turn over the ham slices, and cook them for another 3 minutes--or till slightly brown--then transfer them to a cutting board and remove the pot from the heat.
4. While the ham slices are cooking, measure the broth/stock and microwave it for 30 seconds. Having it warm is helpful when blending the frozen corn.
5. Pour 1/2 cup of warm broth into a blender. Add 2 cups of frozen corn kernels to the blender, then pour the remaining 1/2 cup of broth on top of the corn.
6. Blend the corn and broth until the mixture is creamy. Set aside.
7. Slice the scallions:
First: Cut off and discard the root ends, about 1 inch off the green ends, and any tough sections of the green stalks.
Second: Cut each stalk in two, separating the dark green, hollow section from the light green and white solid section.
Third: Thinly slice the scallions, cutting the hollow green sections slightly wider than the light green and white sections.
8. Chop the red bell pepper half into small chunks.
9. Return the large pot (used for the ham) to medium heat.
10. Add 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil to that pot.
11. Add the sliced scallions and red bell pepper and cook about 5 minutes, stirring often.
12. Add 3 cups frozen corn to the pot. Stir.
13. Stir in the dill weed, thyme, and basil. Cook over medium heat for about 10 minutes. The corn will brown somewhat. Stir frequently to prevent burning.
14. Meanwhile, once the pasta water reaches a boil, add the pasta and stir occasionally. Cook the pasta till al dente, then strain it, running it briefly under cold water (to prevent strands from sticking together). Set the strainer inside the pasta pot, if possible, and cover to retain some of the heat.
15. Cut up the browned ham slices and add the pieces to the pot with the vegetables after they have cooked for 10 minutes. Cook the mixture for another 5 minutes.
16. Stir in the pureed corn sauce. Bring to a simmer and cook for 1 minute.
17. Stir in 1/2 cup shredded mozzarella cheese.
18. Add the pasta. Turn off heat. Combine thoroughly with tongs or a pasta spoon.
19. Season the final product with salt and pepper, if desired, when it's on your plate. Top it with a sprinkling of grated Parmesan cheese.



Sarah Jo said...

you take really good food pics!

p.s. maybe when our mythical garden-of-abundance appears, I'll send you some fresh produce :)

abigail said...

Thanks, Sarah Jo!
Hey, sounds good. :)
I planted (in small pots) some herbs (basil, chives, dill, and parsley) from seeds this spring. So far I have just one sprout each of basil and chives and a whole forest of dill and parsley. Haha. I was really hoping for the basil to thrive, but I guess I'll just have to come up with a use for the dill and parsley.

abigail said...

By the way, if you happen to try out any of the recipes I've posted, I'd love to hear how it turns out: leave a brief comment on the post, if you can. I'd really love to get some feedback. :)