I don’t recall the name of the variety of corn I planted this year, but it is not exceptional. It does grow very tall and adds notable architecture to my front garden. It is the first thing people notice and the first thing they say about my garden. It is not a flavourful corn, nor is it sweet.
I prefer heirloom varieties that have a pronounced corn flavour. I have grown a hybridized variety called Polka, which grows spindly and short and produces little vibrant cobs full of flavour. I now wish I grew Polka this year, if only because the name makes me smile (My own polka skills were highly recognized at a tacky mock Octoberfest event in Kitchener-Waterloo a while back, a fellow at the event correctly guessed my Polish heritage, but all this is a story for another time).
This year’s corn is enjoyable nonetheless, if for no other reason than because we wait for it all year long. Freezer corn, even the best organic brand you can purchase, does not have the same pizzaz of freshly shucked corn, and this is the excitement of growing your own. Throughout the season a succession of vegetables brings vibrancy and joy to our kitchen, and life, in a way the grocery store never will.
Boiling corn whole on the cob and munching away on it doused in butter is fun. My grandmother had special elongated corn dishes and little picks that you pushed into each end of the cob thus allowing you to roll and roll the cob in as much butter as a young person could enjoy. Always butter mind you, never that hydroginized motor oil product that I won’t name here…
Fun as this is, boiled corn does not lend itself to fully exploring the flavour profile of the corn itself. I almost always slice the corn from its cob and sauté and caramelize it in a pan with olive oil and butter, and then turn it into a dish from that point. It is also very good grilled on the cob. We also like it raw as a salad or salsa.
The other day I found two perfectly ripe cobs by surprise. I came bursting proudly into the house with it after the entire neighbourhood likely wittnessed me precariously leaning into the corn patch, one foot stuck up in the air for balance, with the 7 and a half foot plants swaying and rustling as I wriggled and pried the cobs free with an “AHAH!”.
We decided to celebrate it by composing an entire meal around it. We turned it into a pasta. I was first inspired to use fresh corn as a pasta sauce after reading Olives and Oranges by Sarah Jenkins. She suggests an ear shaped pasta called orrecchetti, but my 3 year old chose the biggest, fattest tube pasta in the cupboard. Since he was adamant we gave it a try. He has a good eye. The large tubes grabbed hold of the corn and arugula and the whole thing worked. I am not sure what an Italian would say though, but we can safely hide behind the fact that in Italy they very often don’t use fresh corn as a dressing for pasta to begin with, so any argument about the appropriate pasta shape is hardly worth the effort.
The corn was sautéed in butter and olive oil, a half clove of minced garlic, a sprinkling of dried child flakes, and a good amount of fresh thyme. Corn, to my mind, loves thyme. They make good friends in any dish.
We tossed the pasta in some arugula I found while scavenging in my over crowded, overgrown bed of carrots, onions, greens, fennel, nasturtium etc. etc. It has bolted and turned bitter by this time of the year. Arugula is more June/July greenery in the prairies.
The pasta was finished with a drizzle of olive oil and a dusting of Pecorino Romano, which is a goat’s cheese. It is a hard cheese like Parmesan and we use it on all our pastas, purchasing it in freshly cut little chunks from our local Italian Deli. Corn works well with all goats cheeses and, while parmesan would be appropriate here, I think Pecorino Romano is perfect.
Exciting as all this is, the bringing in of the corn does mean autumn is fast approaching. Best to make most of summer while it lasts.