Monday, August 22, 2011

God Bless New Jersey

That's right, I said it. God bless New Jersey. For many—myself included—the myth of New Jersey has long meant visions of a robust, mafia-driven economy, epic tales of partying at the shore, and questions about the curious odor that seems to permanently hang over the city of Newark. But as it turns out, they don't call New Jersey the Garden State for nothing. New Jersey produces some of the country's best fruits and vegetables, including outstanding tomatoes, super delicious, deep red strawberries, and without question, the best sweet corn in the United States (sorry, Iowa).

For us New York City dwellers, the farms of New Jersey are actually closer than most of those in our home state, and have the distinct advantage of being further south, meaning that they're always the first to have whatever is in season. Few other farms advertise their state of origin as prominently as those from New Jersey do, because savvy farmers market shoppers know that the produce from New Jersey is where the best flavors can be found. Lately I've been stocking up on Jersey corn, devilishly sweet, amber-hued sungold tomatoes, and all manner of summer squash.

With ingredients so delicious, I try really hard to do as little to them as possible. The pasta salad pictured above could just as easily be a hot pasta dish, but I love the idea of a refreshing pasta salad where the corn is nice and charred, but the tomatoes are still plump and juicy. A handful of julienned herbs from my tiny balcony herb garden (sorry, New Jersey) enhance the freshness of the dish and add an unbelievable fragrance. I very much enjoyed my plateful of New Jersey ingredients, and you will to. So the next time you're passing through the Garden State, don't snub your nose. Unless, of course, you're anywhere near Newark.

Penne with Sungold Tomatoes and Charred Corn

1 lb penne pasta (I used whole wheat)
1 pint sungold tomatoes, halved
3 ears of corn, husked, kernels cut off the cob
1/4 tsp cumin
1/4 tsp smoked paprika
5 basil leaves, julienned
5 mint leaves, julienned
1/2 cup smoked cheddar (or your favorite smoked cheese), cubed
1 garlic clove, finely minced or grated
Extra virgin olive oil
Red wine vinegar

1. Preheat oven to 350˚F. Toss the corn with 2 teaspoons of olive oil, cumin, paprika, and salt and pepper to taste. Spread kernels out evenly on a baking tray and place in the oven. Roast until kernels are browned and slightly crispy, 15-20 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to a boil. Season water generously with salt and add the penne. Cook until al dente, then drain and remove to a bowl. 

3. Toss cooked penne with 1 teaspoon of olive oil to keep from sticking together. Add tomatoes, corn, cheese, garlic and herbs to the penne and toss to combine. Add 1/4 cup of extra virgin olive oil, 2 tablespoons of red wine vinegar, and salt and pepper to taste. Toss to combine and serve warm or slightly chilled. Enjoy!


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