Thursday, 8 September 2011 | 19 comments

Sweet corn polenta with tomato-basil vinaigrette

It’s a pretty egregious omission on my part that we find ourselves in late summer and I have yet to feature sweet corn here. Luckily, I find myself in possession of some (Thanks, Del!), so we’ll remedy that quickly. As the granddaughter of a Midwestern farmer with an enormous family, my childhood summers are full of corn memories. In the summer, we’d be shooed out to the porch to shuck mountains of sweet corn. Picture five-gallon buckets full of corn shucks and silk and detritus. it was a lot of corn. And we weren’t the first generation to be corn-fed, either. We grew up on stories of our parents battling it out in corn-eating contests. We ate corn all year ’round, canned by my grandma in big quart-jars, and brought up from the cellar all winter. To this day, I still don’t like canned corn from the store, because nothing tastes like the kind of corn that was literally picked, sliced off the cob, and canned in the same day.This fresh corn polenta is a grown-up take on the sweet corn of my childhood. If you do a search for “polenta”, you’ll get a lot of references to “peasant food”. In many ways, this recipe is humble enough to be that. But using fresh corn, with the addition of a shallot, a clove of garlic, and maybe a few tablespoons of cream, this becomes a bit more transcendent than normal polenta. If you like polenta already, you will wonder where this has been all your life. If you don’t like polenta, you will still like this, I promise. I’ve been eating this in several variations—with a little hot sauce or chopped chile, it becomes sort of Southwestern; or I’ve topped it with sauteed greens and parmesan, or a poached egg. The tomato-basil vinaigrette, though, melds all those late-summer flavors that we know go together so well. Cooking along with the palette (palate?) of the season is rewarding in more ways than one.

Sweet corn polenta with tomato-basil vinaigrette

The cream is optional; there is generally enough liquid in the corn that you don’t need it. If you’re serving polenta as a side, or maybe as a bed for greens or pork, I would leave it out, because the added richness might not be noticeable. If you’re having this as a standalone dish, though, definitely include it.

The vinaigrette is adapted from the restaurant Osteria Mozza via Bon Appetit, and it is so good. I’ve been putting it on salads, sandwiches, marinating things in it, dipping bread in it—it will keep well in your fridge for at least a week.

You will need

For the polenta:
Six ears of sweet corn, white or yellow
2 tablespoons of butter
1 shallot, finely minced
1 garlic clove, crushed into a paste
2-3 tablespoons heavy cream (optional)
Kosher salt and ground pepper to taste

For the vinaigrette:
1 large tomato, cored and chopped into three or four large pieces
A handful of basil leaves
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
Salt to taste

For garnish:
Ricotta salata, or another crumbly, salty cheese
Fresh basil


    Using a box grater, grate the corn kernels from the corn cob. There will be lots of milky liquid that comes along with the kernels—-keep this.

    In a skillet, heat the butter until melted. Add the shallot and garlic, and cook over medium heat until transparent and fragrant. Add the corn, cream (if using), a pinch of salt, and stir. Cook over medium until the corn liquids and cream cling to the corn mixture and the polenta is the consistency you want it. Taste for salt and pepper and season as necessary.

    For the vinaigrette, whirl all the ingredients in a food processor, tasting for salt and seasoning to your taste.

    Top each serving of polenta with a swirl of the vinaigrette and ricotta salata. Garnish with basil.

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