Canned corn is not and never will be as good as the fresh stuff—which, thankfully, is just coming in season—but I still keep a few cans around just in case I experience an emergency that calls for either corn casserole or a quick pickled corn. It is admittedly not fantastic straight from the can, but it responds very well to a little loving doctoring. And when combined with onion, garlic and a little pasta water, you can transform it into a surprisingly luxurious and creamy pasta sauce.
Based on the popularity and ubiquity of corn’s byproducts, we know it’s a grain that contains a lot of starch and a lot of sugar, two things that make for a sweet and silky, but kind of nutty sauce. To balance the sweetness and accentuate the corniness, you just have to cook some alliums in butter (or margarine or olive oil if you want a vegan sauce), sauté the corn to give it a bit of character, then blend it with pasta water before tossing it with your favourite noodles. It coats the noodles aggressively—almost like canned Alfredo—which sounds like a lot but is actually quite comforting. (You can always add more pasta water to thin it out.)
Besides butter—which is almost shelf-stable—this pasta is made entirely with shelf-stable ingredients, though you can add other, not-so-stable ones, like a mountain of fresh parm, some crips bacon lardons or handfuls of fresh herbs. To make it, you will need:
3 tablespoons of butter or olive oil (I used salted butter, but unsalted is fine)
1/2 an onion, diced
5 cloves of garlic, smashed and sliced
1 x 450g can of whole kernel corn, drained
1/4 teaspoon table salt
1/4 cup white wine or vermouth (optional)
425 grams dried pasta
Melt the butter in a large sauté pan over medium heat and add the onions once it’s nice and foamy. Cook until they are completely translucent and start to brown on the edges, then add the garlic and cook until golden. In the meantime, bring a pot of lightly salted water to a boil. (A fair amount of water is used in the sauce, so add about half the salt you usually would.)
Once the garlic is golden, add the corn and salt and cook until the kernels are heated through and the pan starts to look a little dry. Transfer the corn, onion and garlic to a blender (or high-walled container if you’re using an immersion blender) and set aside. Deglaze the pan with wine or vermouth if you have it, scrape up the any browned bits, and add to the blender.
Cook your pasta according to the package instructions until it is al dente, and reserve about two cups of pasta water. (You can remove it from the pot while the pasta is still cooking.) Add half a cup of water to the blender, blend on high, then take a taste and add more water if it’s too thick. (Save any leftover water for reheating later.) Toss the sauce with the pasta to coat, adding more water as needed, then serve with a pepper grinder, a block of grating cheese and lots of fresh herbs.