Linguine with Corn Cream, Charred Tomatoes and Spinach
If you don’t already know, October is the Vegan Month of Food (or Vegan MoFo for short). This is our first year participating and we’re excited to take on the challenge of creating some delicious dishes for each of the daily themes. This first week is all about challenging the perception that Vegans eat boring, flavourless food; that Vegan food isn’t real food. We all know that’s crazy talk, but let’s make sure that everyone else does too. Today’s theme is to re-invent the veggie option. We’re looking at it from the perspective of what have we been served in restaurants that was the ‘token’ vegan or vegetarian dish. Something that was put together out of what they had lying around and could have been so much better if a tiny bit of care was provided. For us, we can’t recall the number of times that we’ve been offered a Pasta Primavera: a bowl of (usually overcooked) noodles with vegetables (what would have been otherwise served as a side dish for their steak or chicken entrees; always cut too large, and never cooked properly), tossed in a dull olive oil sauce (or sometimes with sweet, canned tomato sauce instead). I’m sure you’ve seen this too.
Pasta Primavera, meaning ‘springtime pasta’, should be an ode to the first vegetables of spring. For most of us in the northern hemisphere, that would mean a combination like fresh peas, asparagus and morel mushrooms. Each cooked separately and brought together at the last minute with some nice olive oil, a splash of white wine and some fresh herbs (basil, parsley and mint would be nice). Served with a wide noodle like papardelle and you couldn’t ask for anything better (I love that combination. I’ll post a recipe for it in the spring). We took on this challenge right at the end of the summer vegetable season here in Ontario, so we put together a combination that is representative of the local harvest. Linguine is tossed in a simple sauce of pureed sweet corn and garnished with cherry tomatoes that have been lightly charred to accentuate their sweetness, and some garlicky wilted baby spinach. It sounds a little complicated, but it actually comes together really quickly.
So, get some corn, fill a pot with water, and let’s show them what vegan cooking is all about!
- 2.5 qt/liters water
- 4 teaspoons Kosher Salt
- 3 tablespoons semolina flour
- 8oz/225g Linguine
- 1 ½ teaspoon olive oil
- 2 tablespoons finely chopped yellow onion
- 1 cup corn kernels, from about 1 ear, reserve ¼ cup for garnish
- 1 cup cherry tomatoes, split in half
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 small clove garlic, peeled and finely chopped
- 1 large handful baby spinach
- Some fresh herbs for garnish (optional – basil and mint would be nice)
- Bring the water to a boil in a 4qt pot. While it’s heating, prepare the sauce and garnishes.
- In a 10-inch cast iron pan (or the closest to that you have) over medium-low heat, add 1 ½ tsp of oil and sweat the onion until soft, around 3 minutes. Try to avoid letting the onion brown - it will take away from the colour of the final sauce. Stir in ¾ cup of corn kernels along with 2 tablespoons of water. Simmer gently until the corn is cooked, around 3 minutes. Season to your liking with salt and pepper, then puree the mix in a blender.
- Wipe out the pan then return it to the heat. Turn it up to medium-high. In a small bowl, toss the tomato halves in the 1 tablespoon of olive oil, some salt and pepper. Once the pan is very hot, CAREFULLY place the tomato halves cut-side down in the pan. Save the leftover oil in the bowl for the next steps. Allow the tomatoes to sear without moving them (no peeking!) for around 2-3 minutes. Then, check a couple to see how far they’ve charred. You are looking for a nice black ring around the edges and a moderate amount of char throughout the middle. Carefully remove them to a bowl.
- Remove the pan from the heat and let it cool for a few minutes. Turn the heat to medium low and add half of the reserved oil from the tomatoes. Add the chopped garlic to the pan and sweat gently for around 2 minutes. Add the spinach along with a generous pinch of salt and pepper, allowing it to wilt, stirring frequently until the spinach is deep green and tender, about 2-3 minutes. Remove from the pan and reserve on a plate or bowl.
- Return the pan to the heat and add the last of the reserved oil. Once hot, add the remaining ¼ cup of raw corn kernels. Cook gently until tender, around 3-4 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat. Your water should be boiling by now, so it’s time to cook the pasta.
- In the pot of boiling water, add the 4 teaspoons of kosher salt and the semolina flour. Once the salt is dissolved and flour is incorporated (the water will turn cloudy and may foam a bit), add the dry pasta. The addition of semolina to the pot mimics the effect of the starchy water a restaurant cook would have at their disposal from a pasta pot that is left boiling throughout the night. Check out our Vegan MoFo post on October 10th (Your Favourite Secret Ingredient) when we talk about the importance and benefits of pasta cooking water. Stir frequently throughout cooking to keep the pasta from sticking together. Cook for around 2 minutes less than the package directions. For us, it was about 7 minutes out of the 9 the box recommended. Before draining the pasta, scoop out 1 to 1 ½ cups of the starchy cooking water (you likely won’t need all of it, but it’s better to have too much than too little). Drain the pasta. Add the corn puree from the blender to the pan with the whole corn kernels you just cooked. Use ½ cup of reserved cooking water to rinse out the blender (so you get every bit of the tasty corn sauce!) and add it to the pan. Warm it all together until it reaches a simmer. Stir in the pasta and simmer for around 2 minutes to finish cooking the pasta and to concentrate the sauce. If it thickens too quickly (meaning before the noodles are perfect), add some more pasta water (I ended up using about 1 cup in total). Just as it’s nearing done, stir in the reserved cooked spinach and charred tomatoes.
- This is nice on its own, but feel free to top it with a little thinly sliced basil or mint.