fig. a: Esca Corn Salad in 2D
You might have heard of Dave Pasternack. He's the James Beard Foundation Award-winning chef of New York City's highly touted Esca. He's the legendary New York fisherman-chef who developed a reputation for hauling the fish he'd caught himself from Long Beach to his restaurant in Midtown on the Long Island Rail Road (!).* He's the chef who, when he's not serving his own catch (a distinction that makes Esca the only restaurant in New York that serves "year-round wild game that has been personally bagged by the chef," as Mark Singer put it in a New Yorker profile in 2005), deals with somewhere in the neighborhood of 50 suppliers to score the very finest seafood for his restaurant (by comparison, the overwhelming majority of New York restaurant deal with a single seafood wholesaler, and, well, you get what they pay for). He's also the chef who's credited with having kicked off the seafood crudo craze of the last decade.
So when someone profiles Pasternack's cookbook, a book called The Young Man & The Sea: Recipes & Crispy Fish Tales From Esca, you wouldn't expect them to offer up a vegetarian recipe, but that's exactly what we're going to do. After all, by Pasternack's own admission, "this is the single most requested item on the Esca menu in the summer and early fall," and it's definitely early fall. This recipe is a great example of Pasternack's extraordinary talents and his "unaffectedly refined" approach to cuisine. It's also a great way to use up the last of the season's fresh, local sweet corn before it disappears until next year. Plus, you get three great recipes for the price of one...
Esca Corn Salad
6 ears of corn, husked
1/4 cup walnuts
1/2 cup Rosemary Oil (recipe follows)
1/2 cup Braised Chanterelles (recipe follows)
3 tbsp unsalted butter
4 oz dry aged goat cheese or ricotta salata, grated using the small holes of a box grater
freshly ground black pepper
4 cups arugula, rinsed and dried
Preheat the oven to 300º F.
Prepare a charcoal fire.** Grill the corn over the fire until lightly charred, about 3 minutes. Cut off the narrow end of the cob. Hod the ear with one hand, the flat end resting on the cutting board, and cut the kernels from the cob. Place the kernels in a bowl. Repeat with each ear of corn. Set the kernels aside.
Place the walnuts in a baking tray and toast in the oven for 3 minutes, or until they begin to give off an aroma. Be very careful not to burn them, as the flavor will go bitter quickly. Remove from the oven and set aside.
In a large sauté pan, heat 2 tbsp of the Rosemary Oil. Slightly crush the toasted walnuts in your hand and add to the pan along with the Braised Mushrooms. Sauté for 1 minute. Add the corn kernels, stir to combine, and sauté for 3 minutes, until the corn is hot. Add the butter and 2 tbsp of the cheese. Season with salt and pepper.
Place the arugula leaves in a mixing bowl. Dress them with most of the Rosemary Oil and season with salt and pepper. To serve, spoon the corn mixture into center of four serving plates and sprinkle with half the remaining cheese (or spoon the corn mixture into the center of two serving plates, sprinkle with one-quarter of the remaining cheese, and plan on repeating the process, like we did). Top with the arugula and the rest of the cheese. Drizzle each plate with some of the remaining Rosemary Oil.
Serves 4, unless there's only 2 of you, and you're hungry, and the salad drives you so wild that you can't stop eating it until it's all gone.
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 sprigs rosemary
Place the olive oil in a saucepan and add the rosemary. Heat over a low flame until the oil is war, but not hot. Set aside until the oil is cool. Strain and discard the rosemary sprigs.
3 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
2 shallots, minced
2 tbsp unsalted butter
1 cup dry white wine
1 sprig thyme
freshly ground black pepper
1 pound mushrooms, such as black trumpets, morels, cultivated button mushrooms, or chanterelles, which, as indicated above, pair best with the corn salad
Trace the perimeter of a large straight-sided sauté pan on parchment paper and cut out the circle. This will serve as the pan's lid.
Heat the olive oil in the sauté pan over a medium flame until hot but not smoking. Add the shallots and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft and translucent, 4 to 5 minutes. Add the butter, wine, and thyme, and season with salt and pepper. Lower the heat to a gentle simmer, then add the mushrooms. Toss, then cover with the circle of parchment paper.
Cook the mushrooms at a low simmer for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. They should be very tender. Season with more salt and pepper as needed and serve immediately.
Note: this recipe makes much more than you need for the corn salad, so feel free to adjust it accordingly, but I'm sure you can find another use for the remaining Braised Mushrooms--they're unbelievably delicious.
[recipes adapted only slightly from David Pasternack and Ed Levine's The Young Man & the Sea: Recipes & Crispy Fish Tales from Esca]
* Don't worry, the fish were on ice and in plastic bags. This guy's a pro.
** As much as we love to fire up our grill, we cheated on this step once because we were out of charcoal. We shaved the corn raw, added 1-2 tbsp of canola oil to a skillet, and sautéd it over medium-high heat for just a few minutes, barely stirring at all, until the bottom layer of kernels began to caramelize. We missed out on that wonderful smoky flavor you get when you grill corn on a barbecue, but the recipe still turned out great.