Basil Pesto Corn

july 7, 2017

basil pesto corn

We all love to hear those three little words — no, not those words —I’m talking local sweet corn. Local. Sweet. Corn. When it’s in season and available at farmer’s markets and roadside stands, grab those ears and enjoy the best of summer.

There are so many methods to prepare whole ears of corn (steamed, boiled, grilled, roasted) and just as many adornments if you steer from plain and buttered. Think spice rubs and compound butters. I like a good corn salad like Green Curry Corn Tomato Salad, Grilled Corn and Sugar Snap Pea Salad and Scallop and Corn Salad with Pickled Red Onion

When the corn is super sweet and tender, there’s nothing like a plain ear of corn slathered with butter and sprinkled with a good dose of crunchy flaked sea salt. For a more user friendly corn side dish, remove the kernels and watch your dining  companions ladle out spoons of fresh corn onto their plates, leaving room for the other fabulous summer dishes; one whole ear takes up a lot of plate real estate and, frankly, some folks don’t care to gnaw indelicately on a spear of corn, even with those cute little corn holders attached to the ends.

basil pesto corn

White sweet corn yields the best texture and deep green genovese basil the brightest pesto.

My basil is happy in deck pots this year and neighbors also have both an abundance and sense of generosity. Pesto it is, then, and my client menu includes this simple side dish for elevating the humble dish of corn with Italian flair. Trust me on the free-form basil pesto recipe. No matter what you do, it turns out perfectly and freezes well. In fact, it can be defrosted, used and then refrozen without loss of flavor or quality. How great is that for a kitchen staple? At season’s end, I usually have a couple jars in the freezer for pesto use throughout the chilly months, placing dabs on flatbreads, swirling into bean soups, dotting onto baked potatoes and tossing with noodles.

basil pesto corn

Back to the pesto recipe, which is free-form, but includes approximate amounts for people who prefer not to dole stuff out by the handful. You do need a large bowl food processor, which does all the work. If, after making this pesto and deciding it needs something else, well, you can add that something else. More finely zested garlic, more extra virgin olive oil, more salt, more cheese. Yours to play with. I have always used walnuts, which are less oily and costly than pine nuts, but you are welcome to use pignolis if your heart desires. If parmesan doesn’t pack enough cheese punch, use pecorino romano instead. I use genovese basil, but others also do well. If you use the paler variegated columnar basils, your pesto will be lighter in color but still pack herb flavor. Experiment and know that you can do no wrong here.

basil pesto corn

This corn side dish is meant to be served warm or at room temperature, but a salad can be had with just a drizzle of good vinegar. Balsamic may be a little sweet with the sweet corn, so opt for pure cider or red wine vinegar instead. Here’s to the bounty of  summer and those three little words, printed on handmade signs,  which will make my car turn around super fast in search of some pretty ears.

Basil Pesto Corn

recipe by Michele Humlan, The Good Eats Company basil pesto corn

makes four to six servings


free-form basil pesto

  • enough fresh basil leaves and tender stems to fill the bowl of a large food processor, packed down well
  • two hands grated parmesan (approximately one cup)
  • two hands walnuts, halves or pieces (approximately one cup)
  • four large garlic cloves, peeled and coarsely chopped (use less if desired)
  • one pinch kosher salt (approximately ½ teaspoon)
  • one pinch finely ground white pepper
  • extra virgin olive oil

basil pesto corn

kernels cut from four large ears sweet corn (white preferred)
one tablespoon unsalted butter
½ teaspoon kosher salt and more to taste
3 level tablespoons basil pesto, homemade or purchased


  1. Pack bowl of food processor with basil, add walnuts, parmesan, salt, pepper and garlic and process until all is finely chopped.
  2. With machine running, add extra virgin olive oil in a thin stream, until a chunky paste forms, occasionally scraping down sides of bowl with spatula if needed.
  3. Start with chunkiness and know that you can always add more oil to make a pourable sauce, but adding too much oil at the beginning will yield a runny pesto.
  4. This pesto keeps well in the refrigerator up to one week and will darken less if you place a lid of waxed paper or plastic across the top tightly against the surface; it freezes well and may be refrozen after defrosting without loss of quality.
  5. For the corn, melt the butter over medium heat in a large heavy saute pan, add the corn and salt and stir well, then cook over medium low heat, covered, until just tender, about 1-3 minutes depending on the corn (taste!).
  6. Turn off heat and stir in pesto, coating kernels evenly. Adjust salt to taste.
  7. Serve immediately or at room temperature; for a salad, add a few dashes of good red wine or pure cider vinegar.
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2 thoughts on “Basil Pesto Corn

  1. T Green

    I made this tonight and it was fantastic! I was thinking of making this for a party. How far in advance can it be made? Thanks!

    1. Michele Humlan Post author

      Oh,so happy you liked this summer dish! Partygoers would like it, too. Three days max in advance, but you could also cut the corn kernels ahead by 1-2 days, and heat with butter and pesto as per the recipe at the last minute, or the morning of the event. Happy cooking!


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