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Pasta with Grilled Corn, inspired by Mario

September 14, 2010

Talk about all of my worlds coming together. This one is a doozy! Most people have a short version and a long version of any given story. Not me. I can try to whittle a long story into a medium one, but that is usually as good as I can do. Take for example the inspiration for this recipe- Pappardelle with Grilled Corn. The recipe is simple. The story behind the recipe—- well, that’s another story.

It began in New York a few years ago when my son turned me on to Mexican “elote”. The first time I sank my teeth into that grilled cob of corn smothered in a creamy, cheesy, peppery, limey concoction, I thought “this is one of the best things I’ve ever tasted!”  Ever since then, when the Michigan corn is fresh and sweet, we spend many a summer evening grilling, perfecting and eating our own version of elote.

an elote fest at the lake house

Back to the pasta recipe. We leap from Mexican grilled corn to Italian grilled corn by way of Traverse City, Michigan. In August, my wonderful friend Paul Saginaw, co-founder of Zingerman’s, was invited to interview Mario Batali, on stage, in front of 2000 people.

Ten of Mario’s recipes were featured at this amazing sit-down dinner which was a benefit to raise scholarship money for the National Writers Series. A favorite was Mario’s Italian style grilled corn and that, my friends, was the inspiration for these recipe combinations!

Pasta with Corn, Bacon and Carmelized Onions

Pasta with Corn, Roasted Tomatoes and Baby Spinach

Pasta with Corn, Roasted Tomatoes, Arugula and Pinenuts

Pasta with Corn, Roasted Peppers and Coach Farm Goat Cheese

Pasta with Corn, Pesto, and Tomatoes

Basic Recipe:

Grill the corn and remove from cob. Cut bacon in little squares and cook until crisp. Remove from skillet and drain most of bacon fat. If using onions, now is the time to saute them until carmelized. If not, add the corn to skillet. Cook a bag of Al Dente Pasta®, any flavor, in salted boiling water for 3 minutes. Save 1/2 cup of the cooking liquid to use for saucing. Toss pasta with corn and any of the ingredients you’ve decided on. (If you need more detailed instruction, just ask and I will be sure to respond)

Wendy at the helm, cooking the corn and bacon

Delving deeper into the roots of this recipe, you’d have to follow me to NYC, circa mid 80’s. Dennis and I were preparing to go to the Fancy Food Show when a friend told us that we “had to meet Susi Cahn”. Her family had founded both Coach Leather and was then making Coach Farm goat cheese. Susi had graduated from University of Michigan one year before me but our paths had not crossed while we were students and it took going to NY to meet. Around 1993, I remember it so clearly, Susi invited us to Po, her friend Mario’s restaurant, before it had officially opened to the public. Little did we know, as we devoured the best gnocchi we had ever tasted, that Susi would marry Mario and that Mario would become one of the most recognized personalities to ever hit the food world. That experience puts Dennis and me in the position to to vouch for Mario’s authenticity. He is the same now as he was then-the style, the music, the talent, the personality. He is who he is and always has been.

Which brings me to the end of this story. Paul knew I would probably have suggestions for the interview with Mario. In fact, I had just read his book, Spain: A Culinary Road Trip and loved the part where Mario decides that he misses his family too much and heads back to NY to celebrate Halloween with Susi and the kids. Having witnessed on numerous occasions the love that Mario has for Susi and his boys, I knew that it would be the perfect sort of question to highlight the side of Mario that isn’t always obvious. Sure enough, it worked. The interview was wonderful. Paul and Mario were a great team. Everyone got to see a side of Mario they don’t always get to see. The food was delicious. And, every time we make pasta with grilled corn, we think of Mario, Susi, friendship and a sense of shared history.

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