Come August, dinner more often than not becomes an assembly of ripe ingredients needing nothing more than the simplest of preparations to shine. Peak-season corn, now in abundance at the farmers’ market and showcased in every grocery store, is at the heart of this easy summer pasta inspired by Mexican street corn.
The sauce comes together as the pasta cooks, allowing you to get dinner on the table in about a half-hour. It works beautifully as a main and equally well as a side paired with grilled flank steaks or Italian sausages. It could also play the role of pasta salad if you wanted to serve it at room temperature. It’s hot out there. You choose.
Jalapeño, sautéed in an ample amount of butter, provides a subtle, but pleasant kick – a nice counter to the corn’s sweetness. Readily available feta cheese stands in for traditional queso fresco, which is tossed in near the end of cooking with some of the starchy, salty pasta water. As the feta is stirred in, it starts to melt, creating a silken sauce, while still maintaining some of its crumbly texture.
As for the pasta, orecchiette, which translates to “little ears” in Italian, is worth seeking out not only for the wordplay (“ear” of corn), but because it nicely catches the kernels in its shallow cup, making for the perfect bite. If you can’t find it, campanelle or farfalle would work well in its place.
Basil is stirred into the pasta right before serving and also showered on top. Herbs are plentiful right now, so use them without restraint; a combination of mint, chives or Italian parsley would also work well.
However you choose to serve this dish, the freshest, ripest figs for dessert would be a lovely accompaniment. Choose ones that you can tear apart with your hands. It’s summertime after all, and the living should be easy.
Orecchiette With Corn, Jalapeño, Feta and Basil
Yield: 4 servings
Total time: 30 minutes
1 pound orecchiette
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 jalapeño, finely chopped
5 ears corn, shucked and kernels removed (about 3 1/2 to 4 cups kernels)
8 ounces crumbled feta cheese
1/2 cup torn basil leaves, plus more for serving
Flaky salt, for serving (optional)
Bring a large pot of well-salted water to a boil. Add pasta, and cook until it is just short of al dente, about 10 minutes. Drain, reserving 1 cup of pasta cooking water.
While pasta cooks, make the sauce: In a 12-inch skillet, melt butter over medium heat. Add jalapeño, and cook until softened, about 1 to 2 minutes. Add corn, and cook until it begins to brown in spots, about 3 to 4 minutes. Season with salt. Add 1/4 cup of pasta water and bring to simmer and cook until reduced by half, about 1 to 2 minutes.
Add pasta to skillet, tossing to coat with sauce. Add feta cheese and an additional 1/4 cup of pasta water, tossing until pasta is slick and glossy with sauce. If needed, add in another 1/4 scup pasta water. Stir in basil. Transfer to a large bowl and scatter with remaining basil. Season with flaky salt, if desired.