For Otto regulars, this dish will look familiar; each summer, it makes an appearance on the restaurant’s rotating list of antipasti.
The formula is always the same, with the same tasty results: Sweet corn is charred on the grill and tossed with fregola—plump, pea-sized balls of semolina pasta (think Israeli couscous, but better). So with every bite, you have bursts of sweetness, and a slow, wheaty chew.
The recipe, I discovered, was dead simple; it’s been in my summer repertoire for three years.
But, more importantly, it radically changed the way I think about corn. Forget the microwave, the sauté pan, and the big pot of boiling water: these days the first thing I want to do with a naked ear of corn is plunk it on the grill.
It may sound primitive, but the technique is foolproof. As the kernels blacken, the corn acquires a delicious smoky-sweet flavor, the perfect keystone for a summer salad.
Voila, my signature go-to summer dish. The recipe is forever in flux, a delicious choose your own adventure. The pleasure is in the extemporization, adapting it to any meal or craving.
Charred Sweet Corn Fregola
Adapted from The Babbo Cookbook, by Mario Batali
1½ cups fregola pasta
2 ears corn, shucked
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
¾ cup chicken stock
¼ cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
¼ cup thinly sliced scallions
Freshly chopped parsley and chives, for garnish
1. Bring 3 quarts of water to a boil and add 1 tablespoon of salt. Set up a small ice bath nearby. Cook the fregola in the boiling water until somewhat tender but no cooked through, 10 to 12 minutes. Drain the fregola, refresh it in the ice bath and spread it on a tray lined with paper towels to dry.
2. Preheat the grill
3. Brush the ears of corn with olive oil, season with salt and pepper and place on the grill, turning every 2 minutes until nicely charred. Remove the corn from the grill and set aside. When the ears are cool enough to handle, cut the kernels off the cob with a sharp knife. [Do this in a large bowl, to prevent flying kernels.] Discard the cobs.
4. Combine the blanched fregola, the sweet corn and the chicken stock in a 12 to 14 inch sauté pan and cook over high heat until the stock boils and is mostly absorbed into the grain, about 5 minutes. Add the grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, scallions and salt and pepper and toss over high heat for 1 minute more.
Grilled Corn Salad
You can take this salad in any direction you like; I’ve only listed the essentials below. Popular additions include sliced scallions or finely chopped red onion; avocado (pitted and cut into ½-inch cubes); spices (cumin, cayenne, etc.); dried herbs (oregano and mint work well); feta or cotija cheese (for a Mexican iteration—you can even add a little mayonnaise); sliced cherry tomatoes. While a 2:1 cob-to-diner ratio may sound like a lot, I promise this stuff goes quickly. And the prospect of too little corn is simply untenable.
8 ears of corn, shucked and cleaned
1-2 tablespoons melted butter or olive oil (or more, if you like)
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1/4 cup fresh chopped herbs (basil, tarragon, cilantro, parsley, chives, or thyme)
Fresh lime juice, to taste (optional)
1. Preheat the grill.
2. Brush the ears of corn with olive oil, season with salt and pepper and place on the grill, turning every 2 minutes until nicely charred. Remove the corn from the grill and set aside. When the ears are cool enough to handle, cut the kernels off the cob with a sharp knife. [Do this in a large bowl, to prevent flying kernels.] Discard the cobs.
3. Season to taste and toss with fresh herbs, butter, lime juice (if using), and additional ingredients. [The salad pictured here contains avocado, cilantro, lime, cumin and cayenne.]