Pasta with Fresh Corn Pesto

Growing up in the Midwest, you are surrounded by fields of corn. Unfortunately, most of this corn isn’t for human consumption, but the stuff that is tastes fantastic. We used to buy corn from a local farmer by the dozen. Two dollars for a dozen ears of sweet summer corn—corn that had been picked just hours before you bought it. It didn’t even require cooking. Corn remains one of my favorite summer foods and now that it is making its way into the markets, I was pretty excited to find a series of recipes featuring fresh corn in the latest issue of Bon Appétit.

In this pasta with corn pesto, fettuccine noodles are coated in a creamy sauce made with fresh corn and then tossed with some basil, bacon, and Parmesan. This is summer comfort food at its best. You’ll be as shocked as Bryan was that there isn’t any cream in this dish, just milky, sweet summer corn.

It is worth noting that Bryan doesn’t like corn, but loved this dish. He will ask me clarify that he doesn’t like corn off of the cob, probably the result of too much of the canned stuff as a kid. It is unfortunate that so many vegetables were ruined for us by having experienced them first as canned vegetables (I still have a hard time eating green peas).  Bottom line- if Bryan could love this recipe, it is something special. I think you’ll love it too.

Pasta with Fresh Corn Pesto (adapted from the August 2010 issue of Bon Appétit)

  • 4 bacon slices, cut lengthwise in half, then crosswise into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 4 cups fresh corn kernels (cut from about 6 large ears)
  • 2 large garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons coarse kosher salt
  • 3/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese plus additional for serving
  • 1/3 cup pine nuts, toasted
  • 1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 8 ounces tagliatelle or fettuccine
  • 3/4 cup coarsely torn fresh basil leaves, divided

Cook bacon in large nonstick skillet over medium heat until crisp and brown, stirring often. Using slotted spoon, transfer to paper towels to drain. Pour off all but 1 tablespoon drippings from skillet. Add corn, garlic, 1 1/4 teaspoons coarse salt, red pepper flakes, and 3/4 teaspoon pepper to drippings in skillet. Sauté over medium-high heat until corn is just tender but not brown, about 4 minutes. Transfer 1 1/2 cups corn kernels to small bowl and reserve. Scrape remaining corn mixture into processor. Add 1/2 cup Parmesan and pine nuts. With machine running, add olive oil through feed tube and blend until pesto is almost smooth. Set pesto aside.

Cook pasta in large pot of boiling salted water until just tender but still firm to bite, stirring occasionally. Drain, reserving 1 1/2 cups pasta cooking liquid. Return pasta to pot. Add corn pesto, reserved corn kernels, and 1/2 cup basil leaves. Toss pasta mixture over medium heat until warmed through, adding reserved pasta cooking liquid by 1/4 cupfuls to thin to desired consistency, 2 to 3 minutes. Season pasta to taste with salt and pepper.

Transfer pasta to large shallow bowl. Sprinkle with remaining 1/4 cup basil leaves and reserved bacon. Serve pasta, passing additional grated Parmesan alongside.

56 comments to “Pasta with Fresh Corn Pesto”

  1. This sounds/reads delicious! I, too, dislike corn off the cob (while my boyfriend doesn’t really care for peas), but I’m going to have to make this soon.

  2. I totally made this recipe over the week and just loaded the pics to blog about it. So delicious!

  3. this recipe is definitely appealing to the masses – i’ve seen it all over the place, and clipped it myself to make. looks awesome, and really – corn pesto??!! yum. why didn’t i think of that :)

  4. Awesome! I have never met a pesto I didn’t like- can’t wait to try this!

  5. Wow. Yum. This sounds cuh-ray-zee!

  6. Tim, have you heard of the trick of shucking corn in a bundt pan? The little tip goes in the bundt hole and then you just slice downward and the kernals fall into the baking area. Gah, why did I not discover this a zillion years ago?? Kathryn

  7. woops, I mean kernEls

  8. One of the things I love is how elegant simple food becomes in the summer. Corn. Period. Cherry. Period. I’m a huge addict of elaborate foods and their preparation, but the purity of summer is always a joy.

    As always, Tim, your photos are so clean and wonderful. A million people could shoot this dish, and it will be your photos that walk away with the award. Love your eye and mastery of the lens.

  9. Thanks for all of the nice comments!
    Kathryn, Seriously?! That is such a great idea! Thanks for sharing that.
    Pam, you are too kind! Thanks so much. I completely agree that the purity of summer is always a joy.

  10. totally in love with this dish….&…beautiful photography.

  11. Your corn glamour shots are awesome! Not to mention this recipe sounds delicious. I agree with Kathryn — your photos are always amazing.

  12. This sounds really, really good! I am seeing more and more recipes that use the “milk” from corn (including intentionally scraping down the empty cob with the back of a knife to get more) rather than cream and I’m fascinated by it.

  13. What a unique idea! I too love corn and associate it with warm summer days (though there aren’t so many of those now that I live in San Francisco). I also love that you pointed out that Bryan loved this dish despite his distaste for corn–I often find myself writing, “While Matt is not asparagus fan…” Thanks for sharing, Tim!

  14. Michael Donovan says:

    July 28th, 2010 at 2:21 pm

    Hey Tim!
    I’ve been looking at this recipe for weeks, wondering how it is. It struck me as a “deconstructed” pesto with corn added. But it sounds like it comes together and becomes something more??
    Still thinking about corn ice cream!!

  15. Corn ice cream is so great! Make some!
    Yes, it does come together and become something more. To me this feels more like an Alfredo sauce than a pesto, but either way it is good.

  16. How can Bryan not like corn off the cob? FRESH corn off the cob, that is. Especially when you get those little “slabs” of corn that stay together when you cut them off… yum. The other night I sauteed fresh corn kernels with sweet butter, fresh basil and thyme, garden cherry tomatoes, salt/pepper and served it as a side dish. Heaven! It’s all about the fresh corn vs. canned, which I can’t stand.

  17. The corn is plentiful and so delicious here. I can’t wait to try this recipe. I also want to try corn ice cream this summer. Thanks for a great recipe.

  18. I so want this! Even though I subscribe to BA because we’re in Canada, our issues always come weeks late, so I’m glad to get the jump on this. And I love Kathryn’s tip. Too perfect.

  19. Sounds devine…going to try this tonight. Nice change from the usual herb based pesto. Agree with you Dawn, fresh is best. I cut my corn staight from the cob into my salads Yummmm!

  20. My in-laws have grown massive amounts of corn this year, and even as much as I love it, I’ve been somewhat at a loss for what to do with it! I’ll be adding this to my rotation, along with last year’s summer “buzz” recipe, the corn/tomato pie from Gourmet–which is to die for, if you haven’t had it.

  21. My daughter made this same recipe last week and posted it on her blog. After reading her blog, my husband and I put the recipe on our “To Make” list. We grow our own basil and buy locally grown sweet corn from Tom’s Farm near our house. I would like to leave out the bacon, but my daughter says the bacon is “a must” for flavor. I love when one recipe pops up on different blogs, and each author/chef puts an individual spin not only on the recipe itself but also on the photo journaling of that recipe.

  22. I was intrigued by this recipe too and wanted to make it, but my household is vegetarian. Is the bacon indeed a “must” for flavor? I suspect it is, but thought I’d throw out the question just in case: any possible substitutes?

  23. Hi Pearl,
    That is a good question. Something else is a “must” because I think the dish would be pretty flat without some sort of contrast. Some things I might try: strips of roasted poblanos, and then also toast some extra pine nuts and sprinkle on top for added crunch? Toasted breadcrumbs and smoked salt? I’m not exactly sure how any of these would go, but I do think it is worth experimenting with. The sauce is very mellow and creamy and so you just want to try to find something to play with that. Let us know if you do!

  24. I am so inspired by this recipe, I had no idea there were other kinds of pesto. Sounds AMAZING! Can’t wait to try it myself.

  25. Corn isn’t one of my favorite things in the world – I don’t hate it, I can just kind of take it or leave it. This recipe though, looks like something I could get in to. I’ll probably give it a shot this weekend.

    Thanks for sharing!

  26. I am rather rarely impressed by pesto, as I love this preparation and I tasted tons of various pesto dishes. But I am really impressed by this one, with a strong American touch. I already have corns in my fridge (I bought them straight away in the morning, when I saw your post), as well as other ingredients, except for red pepper flakes. I am going to prepare this pesto tomorrow. Thanks for your recipe and have a nice evening.

  27. WOW Tim this looks fantastic. I love corn. I’ve grown up eating corn all through the monsoons. Although surprisingly, all of a sudden we don’t get white corn. Just the sweet, yellow “American” corn. I remember standing at the stove and fire roasting corn on the cob and them rubbing it with lime dipped in chilli, salt and a wee bit of sugar. Oooh you took me back. I must try your recipe.

  28. For all of my vegetarian pals out there, I just made this and added a couple of splashes of liquid smoke to olive oil (instead of bacon and drippings) at the beginning when you saute the garlic and spices, and it was great! Instead of pasta, I made this with amaranth, and the nutty flavor of the grains plus the fresh basil and corn was really killer!

  29. Good lord, this is amazing. Ah-maz-ing. Desert island food for sure.

  30. Caroline Shields @ carolineskitchentable says:

    July 29th, 2010 at 7:04 pm

    I made this the other night… delish. Nora is 3 weeks old, so it’s about time that I get busy in the kitchen. Now if I can find some time to blog.

  31. Congrats Caroline! I love the name Nora! Looking forward to your return to blogging…
    Thanks, Kari, for the info of veg substitutes!

  32. What an outstanding and unique dish! This is a must make. Just wanted to let you know that I also really enjoy your blog – great job!

  33. I love the idea of a corn pesto.

  34. Made this last night – it was delicious! I agree the bacon helps to add some contrast, as does the red pepper flake. Such an awesome pesto-carbonara-alfredo hybrid!

  35. I made this tonight. Deelish! Even my husband (a very picky eater) liked it. Next time I might try topping it with some sun-dried tomatoes.

  36. I don’t think I’ve yet commented on your blog, but have been following (and hugely enjoying your writing and gorgeous food photography) for the last year or so. I made this corn pesto last night, and my husband and I both agreed that it was AMAZING. And what a great way to use and enjoy all the local fresh corn that’s at the market right now. Thank you for sharing! Looking forward to leftovers for lunch.

  37. I made this right after receiving the issue and then made it again as a baked pasta version. Both were great but the baked version made leftovers for lunch super easy.

  38. made this tonight for dinner and my partner Jill went back for seconds!–always a good sign. we will certainly make this again.

  39. what an intresting recipe!

  40. I made this dish last night with just a few tweeks – half the bacon, and I added more cream to the pesto but no olive oil. This turned out to be a truly special dinner. And I had the in-laws over for dinner no less! Yeah! We were all grinning like idiots because we were so amazed at how awesome this dish it. I’m thinking about two potentially awesome variations – 1) add lump crab to the sauce right at the end (the sauce is already kind of alfredo-ey, so I think crab would be killer), and 2) what if you thinned the sauce out and made it into a soup? It might just be the best corn chowder EVER. Tim – beautiful pics as usual, and I plan to make the chocolate-caramel tart this weekend.

  41. I don’t eat meat and have made this a few times now without the bacon and it is still very good! I have added small cherry tomatoes as a complement to the texture of the corn and pasta.

  42. I’ve been dreaming of a corn and pasta dish all summer. I think this is it. Thanks!

  43. i’m intrigued! i’m going to have to try this

  44. This is such a good example of what I love about Summer cooking: clean, simple, pure, beautiful, and delicious! Our corn is actually just ripening in the garden due to a cooler than usual summer so this is perfect timing even though we’re post Labor Day. Thank you!

  45. This sounds amazing… ok, it’s official: where is summer? I NEED IT NOW!

  46. O.M.G. Just made and this was SO good. Can’t wait for the leftovers tomorrow…

  47. Patty McEnaney says:

    September 15th, 2011 at 7:30 am

    I just found this recipe by searching for corn and pasta on Google and came across your fabulous blog. I have just spent 30 minutes reading back to your two year anniversary and all the way back to this recipe. You are so funny and generous. Every chef you mention is so great, we love Saveur and we live in River Forest. I have to meet you as you are HILARIOUS. One thing you should check out is Rare Bird Preserves, made in Oak Park by a friend of mine, Elizabeth Madden, who lives in River Forest. (Also, next June, try Andrea Reusing’s recipe “Chicken with Rhubarb and Fennel” which we made after seeing it in the Wall Street Journal and was one of my favorite meals of the summer. Thank you SO much for doing what you do.

  48. Patty McEnaney says:

    September 15th, 2011 at 7:32 am

    In my excitement, I left a closing parenthesis off before the last sentence in my first comment. I will do better in the future. Nuts.

    Yours in accuracy.

    Patty McEnaney

  49. Hi Patty! Thanks for leaving such a nice note. I really appreciate the encouragement. I know Elizabeth and Rare Bird- she is great and they are some amazing preserves! And thanks for the heads up on the Chicken with rhubarb and fennel, it sounds amazing. Keep in touch…

  50. This looks so incredibly good. I CAN’T WAIT to try this recipe. I love corn and bacon together!!

  51. Hi Tim! I made this shortly after you posted it 2 years ago, and I’m hoping to make it again, but as something served as a side at a giant bbq (ie. room temp). Do you think this would congeal into a giant mass of pasta and corn, or would it keep its creamy texture? Opinions appreciated!

  52. Hey Nuala- Unfortunately, I think it would congeal into a giant mass. Which is a real bummer, because your idea sounds great. Maybe you could do a version without the cream sauce? Maybe just toss pasta with olive oil, bacon, corn kernels? And maybe use penne or something similar so it is easier to eat? Let me know what you come up with!

  53. Hi again! I ended up following the recipe with a few changes– used orecchiette instead of tagliatelle, and when I made the pesto I thinned it with a little half & half and never added any of the pasta water (I figured it would be the starch that would make the whole thing a sticky mess). It worked wonderfully and everyone loved it– will definitely be making it again as a pasta salad while corn is still so sweet and delicious.

  54. I am new to this blog. But, growing up in the Midwest,then having a garden as a young adult to pick corn and throw it into a pot, then moving to Maryland for 8 years to survive on Silver Queen in the summer, and then back to Indiana where the vegetable stand is the grocery–corn is a daily summer staple/favorite in the summer. I can not wait to try this. And with bacon? One word. YUM.

  55. I just discovered your blog earlier this week and came across this recipe. I was so excited to find it because it was a different pasta dish and I never would have though to make a pesto out of corn! Anyway, I made this last night for my husband and I and we both LOVED it! Great flavor and I loved the little kick it had from the crushed red pepper. I kept saying it was a restaurant quality dish! The only change I made was to use whole wheat fettucine. I will definitely be checking out more recipes on your site, thanks for sharing!

  56. So good! Just made it and we both loved it ……..Thanks so much ……. only change I made was to use Angel Hair Pasta. YUMMY!!

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