For this week’s post, I thought I’d share a few culinary hacks. No, I’m not planning on breaking into some super secret, presumably impenetrable cache of Pentagon recipes. The hack I mean is actually a good thing, and if you perfect one you probably won’t have to worry about the NSA tracking you down, or spending any time with Vladimir Putin.
I started to hear about ‘life hacks’ (the good kind) a few months ago. Yeah, I’m a little late to the game, again. So as not to illuminate my cluelessness further, I thought I’d do a little on-line research rather than ask a friendly twenty-something what exactly this thing was. Naturally, I went to the foremost authority on everything (Google), and then to the cyber-cyclopedia (Wiki). Here’s what they had to say, hack-wise (my comments are in parenthesis):
Life hacking refers to any trick, shortcut, skill, or novelty method that increases productivity and efficiency, in all walks of life. (In other words, being clever.) (Here’s my favorite part…)The terms hack, hacking, and hacker have a long history of ambiguity in the computing and geek communities… (I was unaware “computing” and “geek” were two separate communities.)
So in other words, a ‘hack’ is just a clever way to solve a problem. Put another way, when you are missing a thingamajig or too lazy or broke to go out and get the aforementioned whatsis, you come up with a solution with what you’ve got on hand. Invention, catalyzed by laziness seems to sum it up. Which means I’ve been using hacks all my life. Duct tape is usually involved, unfurled paperclips or bobby pins too. And on one occasion the cap from a can of hairspray (back when big hair was BIG), and it worked quite well to fix a running toilet. You’ve heard the phrase “the right tool for the job”? I’m more a tool that is right at hand kind of gal.
I’ve repaired squeaky hinges with olive oil cooking spray, piped decorative icing flourishes with plastic baggie, squeezed countless limes with kitchen tongs, and used a vegetable peeler on butter, chocolate, cheese, and even a carrot or spud. I didn’t know we needed a trendy hipster name for it, but since we apparently have one now, it’s safe to say I’ve hacked my way through life.
When I started to think about applying hacks to cooking, I realized about half the dishes I’ve come up with were done so with hacks firmly in place. Hacks seem tailor-made for cooking, since we are constantly trying to come up with substitutions due to allergies, calories, cost, unavailable ingredients or the likes and dislikes of our eaters. Today I’ll share two recipes, one mine, the other from the Saveur. Both take advantage of the abundance of sweet corn this time of year and use it as a cream sauce hack for pasta.
(Marc Vetri, Saveur 2015)
- 2 tbsp. olive oil
- 1⁄2 yellow onion, minced
- 2 large ears corn, shucked and kernels removed
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- 2 scallions, trimmed
- 1 lb. fresh egg yolk dough or pappardelle
- Ricotta salata, for serving
Heat oil in a 4-qt. saucepan over medium heat; add onion and cook until soft, 3 minutes. Add 1⁄4 cup water and all but 1⁄4 cup corn; simmer until heated through and almost tender, 2-3 minutes. Add salt and pepper and transfer to a blender; purée crema until smooth.
Heat a 10” cast iron skillet until hot; cook scallions, flipping once, until charred, 2-3 minutes. Transfer scallions to a cutting board and mince. Wipe saucepan clean and add remaining oil; cook reserved corn and the scallions, 1 minute, then add corn crema and cook 1-2 minutes more. Meanwhile, bring a large saucepan of salted water to a boil. Cook pasta until al dente, about 7 minutes. Drain, reserving 1⁄2 cup pasta water; add pasta and reserved water to saucepan and toss to coat. Transfer to a serving platter and grate ricotta salata over the top.
Fresh Pasta with Basil Sweet Corn Sauce
(Me, 2012 or somewhere around there)
Serves 2 as main course, 4 as starter
- 2 small-medium ear of sweet corn (you’ll need about 1 cup kernels) – still in the husk
- 8 oz. fresh fettucine (about 6 oz. dry)
- 1/4 cups fresh basil leaves, plus a little extra for chopping and sprinkling on top
- 2-3 TBSP fresh goat cheese
- 1 TBSP butter
- 2-3 TBSP grated parmesan cheese, plus extra for table
- Salt & pepper
Wrap the ears of corn, husk and all in a paper towel and steam in the microwave for 3-4 minutes until it is just tender. Once it cools enough so you can handle it, remove the husk and silk (this is a lot easier once it’s been steamed), and cut the kernels off of the cob. You should have about 1 cup total. Set aside 1/4 cup of corn, then put the rest, along with the goat cheese, butter and parmesan in a blender. Tear up the basil and add to blender. Add a pinch of salt and a few good grindings of pepper.
Bring a pot of water to boil for the pasta. Once boiling, salt liberally (the water should taste salty) and stir until the salt dissolves. Remove 2/3 cup of water and add to the blender. Blend until you have a somewhat smooth sauce. You want a little texture. Put the sauce into a skillet and add the reserved corn kernels.
Cook pasta until it is just al dente. About a minute or two before the pasta is ready, turn on the heat under the sauce and bring to a simmer. When the pasta is done, add it to the simmering sauce. Don’t drain the pasta before adding, in case you need a little more water to thin out the sauce. Toss the pasta well on low heat until it is completely coated in the sauce. Taste for seasonings and adjust if needed. Top with a little chopped basil and extra cheese. Serve in warmed pasta bowls.