Posts Tagged ‘quick cooking’

Corn Pesto

August 7, 2012

In a prairie-style house near a park with a pool our friends planted a garden along a fence and set a sand box by the patio. Rose of Sharon climbed a shady maple by the garage. Inside, a new open kitchen revved with Wolf, Kohler and Cuisinart. Mission oak chairs surrounded an antique cherry table laid with art deco banded plates atop silver chargers. Our friends’ summer supper redolent of a Tuscan journey featured Midwestern golden corn. As I rolled fettuccine laced with kernels on my fork, I recalled the harvest rite of cutting corn.

Fresh from the garden, burlap bags of roasting ears waited by the back steps. First we shucked, then we blanched, then we cut, as we sat around a big tub under the kitchen light.

To cut corn the old way, hold one end of a cob and rest the other end on a sheet pan or board.  Use a very sharp knife to slice off the top section of kernels leaving a quarter-inch of inner corn on the cob; continue all the way around the cob. Then firmly scrape the cob with the kinfe, extracting the creamy centers, leaving behind the coarse nibs and tough hulls.

Before the season slips away, apply this old Amish corn cutting to the popular corn pesto recipe with whole grain fettuccini, roasted walnuts and a special thanks to those who pointed the way.

Corn Pesto with Fettuccine

4 large or 6 medium ears fresh sweet corn, shucked

2 small zucchini

4 oz. diced bacon or pancetta (1 cup)

2-3 cloves garlic finely chopped

generous pinch crushed red pepper

3 tablespoons olive oil

½ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

4 handfuls fresh basil leaves (half shredded, half left whole)

8 oz. fresh whole grain fettuccine* or 5 oz. dry whole wheat pasta

roasted walnuts

cherry tomatoes for garnish

Gather all ingredients; dice bacon, grate cheese, chop garlic, etc.

Bring a large pot of salted water to the boil. Blanch corn 2 minutes; remove. Blanch whole zucchini 2 minutes; remove. Keep the pot of water ready.

Cut corn as described above: use a sharp, small knife to cut through the top half of the kernels. Scrape the cob, thoroughly extracting all the sweet corn “cream.” Separate the creamed corn and the top kernels. Set aside 1 ½ cups corn kernels and combine remainder with corn cream. Thinly slice zucchini.

In a 3-quart cast iron or shallow stainless pot, sauté bacon until fat is rendered and bacon is golden, crisp, but not hard. Remove bacon to a side plate or drain on paper towel. Leave 1 tablespoon bacon dripping in the pot and sauté garlic until fragrant. Add red pepper, corn cream mixture, olive oil and half the Parmesan cheese. Simmer briefly.

Meanwhile bring the pot of water back to the boil and cook the fettuccine 2-3 minutes for fresh pasta or follow package directions for dry pasta. When pasta is almost done, add a ladle or two of pasta water to hot corn cream mixture and whiz it to a smooth sauce, using a hand-held immersion blender. Add reserved corn kernels.

Seconds before the pasta is done, add the whole basil leaves and the sliced zucchini (to heat zucchini and wilt basil). Pour pasta into a colander to drain, reserving a cup of hot pasta water if needed to thin sauce.

Combine hot pasta with warm corn sauce, thining with pasta water to keep sauce loose and creamy. Divide among four shallow bowls. Top each serving with grated Parmesan, bacon, broken roasted walnut pieces, and shredded basil. Garnish with halved or quartered cherry tomatoes.

*To make 12 oz. homemade whole wheat fresh pasta, use 4 oz. whole wheat flour, 4 oz. semolina flour, 2 eggs, pinch salt and a little water to make a stiff dough.

Mary Jo’s cookbook is available at

Asparagus Carbonara

May 22, 2012

Long before foraging became fashionable and wild ingredients took star billing on prestige restaurant menus, collecting wild edibles outside wasn’t talked about. Few pesticides littered the fields and fencerows in early spring. Wind scattered seeds, birds ate berries and dropped seeds on ditch banks under telephone lines. We wilted dandelion leaves with hot vinegar and bacon for spring salads, cooked pigweed like spinach, and collected mountain serviceberries for blueberry pancakes, but asparagus that grew along the ditch banks was the best of all foraged foods.

On the dry irrigated western farmland, mountain snow melt rushed into the rivers, filled the canals and trickled into shovel- cleaned ditches when the ditch rider turned head gates to release water allotments that would make the land bloom. Asparagus loves water, and the perennial roots living deep in the soil sprang to life with the spring flow, bolted and blossomed when the pickers tired and fell to the summer scythe blade after the birds had their fill. Several decades ago agricultural controllers decided that weeds along the ditch banks were a problem; they sprayed Roundup, cemented the channels, and most of the wild asparagus is gone.

Thankfully asparagus still thrives, cultivated throughout the country and readily available in farmers’ markets. Now is the time to feast on this prized vegetable; for the best flavor, asparagus needs to be selected in season and as close to its place of harvest as possible. Blanche it, steam it, roast it, grill it, season with a little butter, olive oil, garlic and some fresh herbs or twirl it into pasta with some bacon and eggs for Asparagus Carbonara.

Asparagus Carbonara

4-5 oz. thickly sliced bacon*, diced (1 cup)

½ large onion thinly sliced (1 cup)

3 large cloves garlic, peeled and thinly sliced

pinch crushed red pepper (optional)

1 lb. fresh asparagus diagonally sliced (see photo)

3 eggs, free range if possible

2 oz. light or heavy cream (1/4 cup)

1 ½ oz. freshly grated Parmesan cheese (1/2 cup)

8 oz. dry fettuccine of linguine

salt, pepper, fresh mint and chive flowers or parsley

*This is a good place to splurge on sliced-to-order butcher shop slab bacon if it’s available.

Choose a flat-bottomed wok or a large frying pan. Add a few drops olive oil and gently sauté the bacon until fat is rendered and bacon golden but not crisp. Remove bacon with slotted spoon and pour fat into small cup.

Return 2 tablespoons bacon fat to the frying pan or wok and gently sauté the onion until limp. Add garlic and crushed red pepper, cook a few seconds longer. Set aside.

Bring a 3 quarts water to a rolling boil, salt generously and quickly cook sliced asparagus 3 minutes. Remove asparagus with a spider or slotted spoon and spread out on a baking sheet. Add the pasta to the boiling water and cook for the recommended time.

Meanwhile whisk together the eggs, cream, salt, pepper. Reheat onion in wok or skillet, add bacon and asparagus. Warm thoroughly and turn off heat. As soon as the pasta is cooked, drain it well and turn the hot pasta into the skillet or wok with bacon and asparagus. Toss to combine along with the egg mixture, adding the parmesan cheese. (The heat of the pasta and the asparagus will cook the egg into a delicate coating sauce.) Use tongs to divide the carbonara into warm pasta bowls and top with chopped fresh mint and chive flowers or parsley. Serves 3-4.




Quick French Chix

March 26, 2012

Winds may blow us off course, but eventually set us back down where we began. I’ve boned whole chickens, stuffed them with exotic rice and preserved lemons, bathed them in sauces of mushrooms, pistachios, fresh herbs and creme fraiche, but sometimes I’m ready for some simple fried chicken. I’m not interested in the boneless, battered, deep-fried model but just an honest piece of flavorful, free-range chicken seared until the skin is crispy, the meat juicy and bathed with a simple reduction of greaseless pan glazing.

Long ago I learned all it takes in addition to my heirloom cast-iron skillet, a swirl of oil, and a few cloves of garlic is a splash of common red wine vinegar. I’ve repeated this chicken sauté countless times over the decades with slight variations along the way, and it’s always a favorite. Diners will never guess the secret ingredient is vinegar that sweetens, tenderizes and moistens the chicken.

Country cooks have long known the benefits of using vinegar, one of the oldest kitchen staples. All you need are five ingredients, along with salt and pepper and half an hour to recreate the version of fried chicken that made Paul Bocuse a celebrity chef forty years ago. Even if you hesitate at the vinegar idea, you’ll want to give this healthy, tasty alternative a chance. It’s not necessary to use fancy balsamic, sherry or champagne vinegars here; simple salad vinegar, red wine or cider, is fine. For any pan-fried chicken, choose bone-in pieces that boost calcium, hold in moisture—and as most chicken aficionados know, the choice pieces are dark.

French Style Sautéed Vinegar Chicken

4 leg/thigh pieces of free-range chicken (about 2 1/2 lbs.), or one 3-lb. chicken cut in pieces.

salt and pepper

1 tablespoon olive or vegetable oil

6-8 large whole cloves garlic

4 tablespoons red wine vinegar

1 teaspoon flour

1 teaspoon tomato paste, Dijon mustard or 1 chopped fresh


3/4 cup (6 fl. oz.) chicken stock

Cut through the underside fat line between the knee and thigh joint to make two pieces or just sever the tendon so the joint will lie flat as it cooks. Blot chicken dry with paper towels and sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Swirl oil in a heavy iron skillet and heat until oil shimmers. Find a lid or a baking sheet that will cover the skillet tightly, and set aside. Using tongs, add chicken pieces, skin side down. Distribute whole, unpeeled garlic cloves among chicken pieces. Sauté over moderately high heat for ten minutes. Turn chicken, which should be deeply golden, and cook for ten minutes on the other side. At this point the chicken should be almost cooked through.

Remove chicken and garlic to a plate, and pour fat from pan (there may be as much as 4-5 tablespoons excess fat). Return chicken and garlic to skillet; bring heat back up. Measure 4 tablespoons vinegar. Once the chicken is again sizzling, pour the vinegar over the chicken and immediately cover with lid and steam the chicken for 5 minutes.  Remove the lid; again remove chicken and garlic from the skillet which will be filmed with a sticky residue from the vinegar and chicken juices; this is the precious bit to turn into a glazing sauce.

Work the teaspoon of flour into the little bit of remaining fat, and add tomato paste, mustard or diced whole tomato. Whisk in chicken stock and boil up quickly to form a light sauce. Return the chicken and garlic to the pan, coat with sauce and simmer a few seconds. Serve with sauce glaze, whole soft garlic cloves and a sprinkling of fresh parsley and chives. Serves 4. Any leftovers make excellent room-temperature picnic bits.