Pesto, change-O: Try this inventive take on two summer classics -- fresh sweet corn and pesto

  • Corn is lightly cooked in garlic, salt and pepper before it's put into a food processor bowl.

    Corn is lightly cooked in garlic, salt and pepper before it's put into a food processor bowl. Courtesy of Penny Kazmier

  • Corn Pesto with orchiette pasta puts summer's sweet corn

    Corn Pesto with orchiette pasta puts summer's sweet corn Courtesy of Penny Kazmier

Updated 8/21/2019 6:13 AM

There is nothing better than freshly shucked sweet corn dripping in butter and sprinkled with salt. But maybe you'd like to try a way to enjoy corn, but with a little more pizzazz. Try turning fresh roasted sweet corn into pesto and serve it over freshly cooked pasta. Top it with some bacon and basil, and you have a meal or delicious side dish.

When I think of pesto, I used to think of the green mixture of basil, pine nuts, Parmesan cheese and olive oil. I have since learned the word pesto originates from the Genoese word pestâ, which means to pound or to crush. This definition refers to how the authentic sauce is prepared, with a mortar and pestle. However, the translation may be a bit misleading as the traditional preparation calls for grounding rather than pounding and now is often made using a food processor.


I like to listen to "Foodcast" a podcast by the Bon Appetit folks. As luck would have it, a recent episode, specifically episode #226, was devoted entirely to pesto. The "Foodcast" experts confirm the origins of the word pesto as well as several different recipes for pesto, including the familiar green, red -- made with sundried tomatoes and even white, made with ricotta and walnuts. It seems the sky is the limit. Because of the nod from Bon Appetit, I feel comfortable sharing this recipe for Pasta with Corn Pesto and calling it pesto.

This corn pesto incorporates fresh sweet corn, pine nuts, Parmesan cheese, garlic and of course, olive oil. Before you get to the point of putting it all in the food processor, you need first to remove the corn from the cob.

Cutting corn kernels off the cob can be a tedious, messy job. I have used several recommended techniques and still ended up with kernels flying off the cutting board, ending up on the counter, back-splash, and floor. Then, my friend Donna gave me one of my favorite kitchen gadgets; the OXO Good Grips Corn Stripper*. I don't usually endorse products, but this one is a keeper.

The corn stripper is a little larger than a computer mouse, fits nicely in your hand (left or right), has a serrated blade on one side and a small compartment for collecting your cut kernels. It empties easily, is super easy to use, and eliminates much of the mess and wasted rogue kernels that end up somewhere other than where they are supposed to be.

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After removing the kernels from the cob, using whatever method you prefer, be sure to remove the "milk" by scraping the cob, in a downward motion onto your cutting board or bowl, with the dull side of your knife. Be sure to tilt the blade of your knife to ensure the juice goes where you intend and not your clothes or wall, keep all the flavor in your food and not everywhere else.

To get the most flavor out of your pesto, and other dishes using nuts, be sure to toast them first. Also, reinforced by Bon Appetit, toasting nuts helps to bring out their flavor. Be careful, due to nuts' high oil content; they burn quickly. In the case of pine nuts, try roasting in a skillet for a quick toast, or an even roast, in a 375-degree oven for 5 to 10 minutes. The skillet toasts nuts quickly, but only on the side of the nut touching the surface of the pan, so stir often. The oven provides a very even roast, but monitor progress carefully, as nuts can also burn quickly. Be sure to toast your other nuts too, as the process will enhance their flavor.

My last pesto tip also comes by way of "Foodcast" and suggests you grate the Parmesan cheese before adding it to the pine nuts in the food processor. Doing this first helps to ensure the cheese will be evenly distributed within the pesto, and no large pieces will disrupt the smooth texture of your pesto.

Corn pesto and pasta may sound like a strange combination, but it is delicious. After cooking corn kernels briefly with garlic, salt, and pepper, some of the corn is set aside while most go into a food processor bowl with pine nuts, Parmesan. The ingredients and given a whirl before olive oil is added and emulsified. I like the crunch of some corn, so I don't process the mixture until it is smooth and leave some of the kernels visible. Now add the reserved kernels, along with some freshly torn basil and crunchy bacon bits, and you have a meal or substantial side dish.


Be sure to use a pasta shape that can capture the corn kernels, like medium-size shells or the like, and for extra lusciousness, add a little drizzle of good olive oil over the top before serving. I promise you, as strange as this recipe may sound, it will make you rethink how you eat corn.

* Note: If you can find the mouse shaped OXO Good Grips Corn Stripper, grab it as it looks like it's been discontinued. OXO does make a corn prep peeler that works the same way, without the kernel receptacle. Find this and more gadgets at

• Penny Kazmier, a wife and mother of four from South Barrington, won the 2011 Daily Herald Cook of the Week Challenge.

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