8 ounces dried shell-shaped or gemelli pasta (not mini-size)
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
½ medium red onion, cut into ¼-inch dice
2 medium cloves garlic
1½ cups (6 ounces) frozen/defrosted or fresh white sweet corn kernels
2 thin leeks, white and light-green parts, cut into ¼-inch dice then rinsed well (4 ounces trimmed)
Leaves from 2-3 thyme stems
½ cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons (1 ounce) freshly shredded grana padana or Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, plus more for garnish
Freshly ground black pepper
16 cherry or grape tomatoes, each cut in half
Chopped parsley, for garnish
Bring a large pot of water to a boil over high heat. Add a generous pinch of salt and the pasta. Cook until al dente (just shy of fully done) according to the package directions. Drain, reserving ½ cup of the pasta cooking water.
Meanwhile, heat the butter and 1 tablespoon of the oil in a medium nonstick saute pan over medium heat. Add the onion, garlic and ¼ teaspoon of salt, stirring to coat. Cook for about 5 minutes, until softened. Stir in the pasta cooking water; cook until the mixture has reduced by two-thirds, about 8 minutes. Turn off the heat.
Heat the remaining 3 tablespoons of oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat until the oil shimmers. Add the corn, leeks, thyme and salt to taste, stirring to coat the vegetables. Cook without stirring for 15 minutes or until the vegetables start to brown on the edges, then toss to cook until they are more uniformly lightly browned, for 5-7 minutes.
Stir in the cream to form a sauce; cook for 30 seconds to 1 minute, until the sauce reduces by half. Reduce the heat to medium-low; add the onion-garlic mixture to the corn-leek mixture, along with the cheese and pepper to taste. Add the pasta and stir to coat; once it has heated through, remove from the heat.
Heat the same nonstick saute pan (used to cook the onion-garlic mixture) over medium-high heat. Add the tomato halves, cut sides down; cook for 15 seconds, then turn them over and cook for 15-25 seconds, until nicely seared.
Divide the pasta among wide, shallow bowls. Garnish with chopped parsley and cheese, then arrange equal portions of tomatoes atop each serving. Serve warm.
Serves four to five.
Nutrition values per serving (based on 5): 440 calories, 25 g fat (10 g saturated), 47 g carbohydrates, 4 g dietary fiber, 5 g sugar, 10 g protein, 45 mg cholesterol, 110 mg sodium.
Chefs Sara Jenkins and Daniel Malzhan, Amtrak Culinary Advisory Team