We first had this salad on our vacation in Alaska. It is an unlikely combination of ingredients but when you put them all together the taste is spectacular! One bite led to another and I finally had to force myself to stop. As I walked the Farmer’s Market this weekend I saw all of the fresh vegetables I needed and knew I had to make it again. There were bundles of cut cilantro, onions, peppers and even some early sweet corn.
It starts with a pesto made from fresh cilantro, pistachios, lime zest, garlic, and olive oil. Be sure and zest your citrus right over the bowl so you don’t lose any of the flavorful oils or zest stuck to a cutting board.
Pesto can be prepared in a food processor, blender, or using a mortar and pestle. We use a food processor and pulse the dry ingredients together a few times until combined. Then drizzle in the olive oil.
The pesto is ready when it is the consistency of paste.
The vegetables are roasted on the grill, or over an open fire. Brush the onion and peppers lightly with olive oil and cook until tender. Turn the vegetables allowing grill marks to form.
The vegetables and pesto are tossed with warm pasta and crumbled cheese. The heat from the pasta will cause the pesto and cheese to cling to the noodles. The queso fresco is very creamy with a mild flavor. It is not aged more than a few days and literally translates to “fresh cheese”. You can get the same effect from feta or blue cheese but they are aged much longer and the stronger flavor may overpower the other ingredients. Reserve some corn, pistachios and cheese for the top.
At first bite you taste the grilled vegetables, cilantro and lime, with very little heat from the poblano peppers. Then comes the sweetness from the corn and pistachios, and finally there is creaminess and a little salt from the cheese. The way the corn and pistachios combine with the other flavors is what I find so unique and addicting.
Roasted Corn and Pasta Salad
2 cups Fresh cilantro
1/3 cup Roasted, salted pistachios
Zest of 1 lime
Juice of 1 lime
1 Medium clove garlic
1/2 tsp Salt
1/2 cup Olive oil
2 Large poblano peppers
1 Large red pepper
1 Large red onion, quartered
3 Ears fresh corn, husked
12 ounces Fusilli or rotini pasta
1 1/3 cup Queso fresco, crumbled
Pistachios for top of salad
Fresh cilantro for garnish
1. Prepare the pesto:
2. Pack the cilantro into a food processor or blender.
3. Add the pistachios, lime zest, lime juice, garlic and salt.
4. Pulse a few times to combine the ingredients.
5. Drizzle in the olive oil and puree until smooth. Set aside.
6. Seed the peppers and slice in half.
7. Brush the onion and peppers lightly with olive oil.
8. Grill the peppers, onion and corn over a medium high grill until tender, about 10 minutes.
9. Turn the vegetables every couple of minutes to allow grill marks to form.
10. Transfer the peppers to a bowl and cover with film.
11. Cook the pasta al dente and drain.
12. When the vegetables are cool enough to handle cut the kernels from the corn. Reserve some corn for the top.
13. Rub the skins from the peppers and then chop the peppers and onions into 1/2-inch pieces.
14. Combine the warm pasta, vegetables, pesto and 1 cup cheese. Toss well.
15. Serve as a main course or side salad topped with corn, cheese, chopped pistachios and fresh cilantro.
We’ve had this salad as a side with burgers, and grilled chicken, but it would easily stand alone as a main course for lunch or light dinner. Our first dinner with family in Fairbanks was open fire burgers and roasted corn salad. We soon learned it was only the beginning of our Alaskan open fire culinary adventures. Stay tuned.