Corn Carbonara

published Jul 9, 2024
summer
Corn Carbonara Recipe

A summery twist on the classic Italian pasta dish.

Serves6

Prep15 minutes to 20 minutes

Cook40 minutes to 55 minutes

Jump to Recipe
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overhead shot of a pan full of corn carbonara, topped with black pepper
Credit: Photo: Alex Lepe; Food Styling: Spencer Richards

Riffs on the classic spaghetti carbonara are nothing new. Its simplicity makes it ideal for creative twists. You could make gochujang carbonara spiked with sweet heat, melty cabbage pasta carbonara with tangles of caramelized cabbage, or even baked spaghetti squash carbonara. If all these flavors work well, why not use carbonara to celebrate seasonal produce? For me, summer is all about fresh corn, so I couldn’t resist creating a corn carbonara. In this recipe, fresh corn adds a subtle sweetness that contrasts against the sharp cheese and salty bacon. It’s a twist on carbonara that’s bound to become a summertime staple.

Why You’ll Love It

  • This pasta is exploding with corn flavor. Corn on the cob is an incredible ingredient because in addition to its crisp, sweet kernels, the cob is rife with starchy juices and an abundance of hidden flavor. It would be a crime to let any of that corn goodness go to waste, so this recipe uses corn in three ways to boost its presence. 
  • The “corn broth” is life-changing. Here, I share an easy technique for making a quick broth with the corn cobs that can be used to transform a multitude of recipes. Try it as the base for soup, as the liquid for cooking grains, or for making risotto.
Credit: Photo: Alex Lepe; Food Styling: Spencer Richards

Key Ingredients in Corn Carbonara

  • Corn: Corn is infused into this pasta in three different ways and is perfect for when fresh corn on the cob is in season. Yellow, white, or bicolor corn all work. Look for large ears with big, plump kernels that offer a juicy crunch against the salty bacon.
  • Spaghetti: Dry spaghetti offers the best size and texture against the bits of corn and bacon. Fresh pasta or thin angel hair is too delicate to withstand the vigorous tossing when adding the egg and cheese mixture.
  • Bacon: Using thick-cut or center-cut bacon allows the rendered pieces of bacon to stay meaty and a little toothsome. Choosing a bacon that is applewood or hickory smoked will have a bolder flavor, but will work just as well.
  • Eggs: No need to separate eggs for this carbonara. The starchy, smooth corn puree offers the same slippery richness as extra egg yolks that many recipes include while adding even more corn flavor.
  • Pecorino Romano: This salty sheep’s milk cheese is what’s used in traditional carbonara, and the strong flavor offers a great counterpoint to the sweet corn. For the best texture, get a block of Pecorino Romano from Italy, and grate it fresh before using.
  • Parmesan: The nutty flavor of Parmesan is sweeter and more mild than Pecorino, so adding some in this recipe boosts the cheesy taste without overshadowing the corn. Look for a block of Italian Parmesan for the best texture.
  • Coarsely ground black pepper: Grind your peppercorns fresh and avoid pre-ground containers, which can be dusty and harsh. Toasting the pepper in the hot bacon drippings enhances and deepens its flavor. 

How to Make Corn Carbonara

  1. Make the corn broth. Simmer the stripped corn cobs with water to draw out all of the flavor and starch from the cob, infuse the noodles, and reduce kitchen waste. 
  2. Crisp the bacon and corn kernels. Briefly cook some of the corn kernels in the hot bacon drippings to take off the raw edge of the kernels and lightly caramelize them, deepening the flavor of the corn. 
  3. Toss the cooked spaghetti with the bacon drippings. Coating the spaghetti with the bacon drippings keeps the noodles from clumping together before adding the eggs and cheese. It also makes it easier to emulsify since fat bonds with fat easier than water. 
  4. Make the corn puree. Rather than use straight cooking water to loosen the eggs and cheese, blend corn kernels with hot pasta water to add creamy starch and even more corn flavor to the dish. 
  5. Toss the pasta and egg mixture together. Whisk the eggs and cheeses into the warm puree and toss with the pasta until smooth before briefly cooking over low heat to thicken the sauce. 

Helpful Swaps

  • To use frozen corn instead of fresh, you need frozen ears of mini corn on the cob and frozen corn kernels. Boil 4 mini ears of corn in place of the cobs. Remove to a cutting board, cool slightly, and cut off the kernels (about 1 cup); blend these kernels for the puree. Add 1 cup of thawed corn kernels to the crisped bacon. 
  • While spaghetti has the perfect thickness for this pasta, you can swap in other long noodles like linguine or bucatini.
  • For a less smoky flavor, you can swap the bacon for pancetta or opt for traditional guanciale. Either one may be saltier or more peppery than bacon, so make sure to taste your pasta before adding any final seasoning.

Tips for Making Corn Carbonara

  • When adding the egg and cheese mixture, make sure the skillet is off the heat, and the pasta and bacon have cooled for a few minutes, but are still steamy and warm. You want the eggs to bond with the pasta and starchy water and begin to thicken before returning to a very low heat. The eggs will already be mostly cooked, but the last few minutes of cooking over low heat ensure the cheese is fully melted and the sauce is clinging perfectly to the noodles. 
  • A good pair of tongs are the best way to toss the spaghetti with the sauce. Lift the noodles straight up and then let them fall back into the skillet. Alternate lifting with twirling and twisting as much as the tongs can grab to evenly coat them. 

Corn Carbonara Recipe

A summery twist on the classic Italian pasta dish.

Prep time 15 minutes to 20 minutes

Cook time 40 minutes to 55 minutes

Serves 6

Nutritional Info

Ingredients

  • 2 to 3 large ears

    corn

  • 12 cups

    (3 quarts) water

  • 8 ounces

    thick-cut bacon (6 to 8 strips)

  • 1 1/2 ounces

    Pecorino Romano cheese (not store-bought grated)

  • 1 ounce

    Parmesan cheese (not store-bought grated)

  • 1 pound

    dry spaghetti

  • 2 teaspoons

    kosher salt, plus more as needed

  • 1 teaspoon

    coarsely ground black pepper, plus more as needed

  • 4

    large eggs

Instructions

  1. Remove and discard the husks and silk from 2 to 3 large ears fresh corn. Cut the kernels off the cobs until you have 2 cups and transfer to a bowl.

  2. Place the corn cobs in a large pot, add 12 cups (3 quarts) water, and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Boil for 15 minutes. Meanwhile, cut 8 ounces thick-cut sliced bacon crosswise into 1/2-inch-wide pieces. Finely grate 1 1/2 ounces Pecorino Romano and 1 ounce Parmesan cheese on a Microplane (about 1 cup each).

  3. Remove the cobs from the pot with tongs. Add 1 pound dry spaghetti and 2 teaspoons kosher salt to the corn broth. Cook according to package directions until the pasta is just al dente, 8 to 12 minutes. Meanwhile, place the bacon in a large skillet. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until browned and crisp, 8 to 10 minutes. Add 1 cup of the corn kernels and 1 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper. Cook until the corn is well coated and crisp tender, about 1 minute. Turn off the heat.

  4. Transfer the spaghetti with tongs to the skillet — it’s OK if some water clings to the pasta. Toss well to coat the pasta and set aside to cool slightly.

  5. Place the remaining 1 cup corn kernels and 1/3 cup of the hot corn broth in a blender and blend until very smooth. Pour through a fine-mesh strainer set over a medium heatproof bowl, pressing on the solids; discard the contents of the strainer.

  6. Add 4 large eggs to the corn purée and whisk well to combine. Add the Pecorino and Parmesan cheeses and whisk again. While tossing the pasta constantly with tongs, slowly start pouring the egg mixture into the skillet, pouring over the noodles and not the edges of the pan. Add 2 tablespoons of the pasta water, return the pan to low heat, and continue to cook, tossing constantly, until the sauce starts to thicken and coats the pasta, 3 to 6 minutes (add more pasta water a tablespoon at a time as needed if the pan is dry). Move the skillet around the burner to avoid any hot spots that could scramble the eggs.

  7. Take the skillet off the heat. Taste and season with more kosher salt and black pepper as needed. Transfer to a large bowl or individual serving bowls and serve immediately with a few grinds of pepper on top if desired.

Recipe Notes

Substitutions:

  • Pasta: While spaghetti has the perfect thickness for slurping and tangling with the bits of bacon and corn kernels, other long noodles like linguine or bucatini will work just as well.
  • Bacon: For a less smoky flavor, you can swap the bacon for pancetta or opt for traditional guanciale. Either one may be saltier or more peppery than bacon, so make sure to taste your pasta before adding any final seasoning.
  • Frozen corn: Instead of fresh corn, you can use a combination of 4 mini frozen corn on the cob (about 4 inches long) plus 1 cup thawed frozen corn kernels. Boil the ears of corn according to the instructions to make the corn broth, then cut the kernels off the cob and use in the corn puree. Sauté the thawed frozen corn kernels with the bacon.

Make ahead: While the pasta itself is not something you can make ahead, you can simmer your corn cobs for the corn broth ahead of time. Return the water to a boil before adding the spaghetti and salt, adding 1 to 2 cups more water if the pot is less than half full.

Storage: Even though this is a twist on a classic, it is similar to carbonara in that it is best served immediately. Leftovers can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 4 days. Gently rewarm leftovers in a skillet over low heat with a splash of water, leftover corn broth, or pasta water.