This Creamy Sweet Corn Pasta with Basil and Tomatoes is a simple and healthy dinner that’s completely vegan! Instead of using cream, we’re boiling corn cobs to create a starchy, infused cooking water. Adding basil and tomatoes makes this the perfect summer meal.
Tips for Making Pasta Without Actual Cream
In this recipe, we boil de-kerneled corncobs to create an extra-starchy and flavorful pasta cooking water. Boiling corncobs helps release their natural starch into the cooking water, this and contributes a stickier texture when added to the final pasta dish. As a bonus, it provides another layer of sweet, summer-y corn flavor.
How to Choose the Best Ears of Corn for Pasta
- Use corn that is as fresh as possible. The minute corn is picked from the stalk, its natural sugars begin converting into starches. If you can, purchase corn from a farm stand or market the same day you plan to make this recipe.
- Look at the little hairs at the top of the corn (the tassels). For the freshest product, these should be dark brown and sticky when touched. If they are grey or black, the corn is likely old.
- Check that the husk of the corn is bright green and tight against the kernels.
- Feel through the husk to see if you can feel any gaps in corn pieces. If so, look for another ear.
- Glance around the husk and check for small holes. These could be from worms, which may have eaten their way inside.
These tips are also useful if you are making Grilled Street Corn!
Ingredients Needed for Creamy Sweet Corn Pasta
- 4 ears fresh sweet corn, shucked and cleaned
- Kosher salt, used throughout
- 2 heirloom tomatoes or 15 cherry tomatoes, diced
- 4 TBS butter, divided, vegan if needed
- 2 medium shallots, diced
- 1 hot pepper (like habanero), seeded and minced
- 2 small cloves garlic, minced
- 1 tsp fresh or dried thyme
- 1 lb./16 oz. short pasta, like fusilli
- 1 cup basil, sliced into ribbons
How to Make Sweet Corn Pasta
- We begin by standing corn upright in a shallow bowl, end to end. Using a sharp knife, cut down the sides of the corn to remove the kernels. Reserve the kernels in the bowl and add the cleaned cobs to a medium pot with 10-11 cups (about 2.5 liters) or water. Bring corncobs to a boil and let cook 15 minutes.
- Meanwhile, add diced tomatoes to a small bowl and season with 1 tsp salt. Set aside.
- In a large skillet or wok over medium heat, melt 2 TBS butter and sauté shallots for 5 minutes. Add corn kernels, hot pepper, garlic, thyme, and 1 tsp salt. Remove 1 cup of water from the cooking corncobs and add this to the pan with the corn and shallots. Stir to combine. Let cook for 5-8 minutes, until the corn is slightly browned.
- Using tongs, remove corncobs from their cooking water. Bring it back up to a boil and add pasta, cooking according to package instructions. Reserve one more cup of pasta water, setting it aside. Drain pasta and set aside.
- Add cooked pasta to the pan with the corn along with 2 more TBS butter. Stir to combine and stream in half of the reserved cooking water. See if the sauce is creamy enough and add the rest of the water as needed. Add reserved tomatoes and fresh basil. Enjoy immediately!
Substitution Ideas for this Recipe
- Swap heirloom tomatoes for cherry or grape tomatoes
- Use fresh parsley instead of basil
- Swap the butter for olive oil
- Use any kind of hot pepper (just be sure to remove the ribs and seeds). Or, just leave it out!
- Swap the fresh thyme for oregano
What pasta shape is best for this creamy sweet corn pasta?
Any short pasta will work well, so consider something around 1 inch (2.5 cm) in length. Rigatoni would be a fun swap since the small corn pieces would get trapped inside the little tubes. In these photos I am using fusilli, which is widely available and affordable at most grocery stores.