Kentuckifying pasta with corn, country ham, butter and peppers

Pasta with Corn, Country Ham and PeppersWe are big fans of the late Judy Rodgers, even though we find some of the recipes in her fabulous Zuni Cafe Cookbook a bit confusing. However, Rodgers’ delicious “Pasta with Corn, Pancetta, Butter & Sage” isn’t one of them. We’ve enjoyed this simple-to-prepare dish many times. But, at this point of our summer season, we decided to vary it a bit. (This decision may have been influenced by our lack of sage plants, which drowned during our recent unseasonably heavy rains.)  Instead of pancetta, we crisped up bits of Kentucky country ham, halved the butter and added some local peppers for a little heat. We tossed this with some of Steve’s fresh pasta, added some crusty bread and enjoyed ourselves immensely.

Pasta with Corn, Country Ham and PeppersEven if you’re not fortunate enough to be in the Bluegrass at the moment, grab some fresh corn, some salty cured meat and a bit of butter and spice. It may not be Kentucky, but it will most likely be delicious over pasta.


(inspired by Judy Rodgers’ The Zuni Cafe Cookbook)

  • 6 ears fresh corn
  • 1 stick (4 oz.) butter
  • 1/2 c. country ham, minced (or substitute prosciutto)
  • 1/2 c. mixed peppers in varying colors (some hot), diced small
  • White parts of 3 young leeks, sliced into thin rings (optional)
  • Salt and pepper
  • 4-5 servings of spaghetti or fettuccine (preferably homemade)

Start pasta water on to boil.

Using a sharp knife, scrape kernels from ears of corn into a bowl.

Melt about 2 tablespoons of the butter in a large skillet. Add ham and sauté, stirring, until it starts to sizzle. Add a few more tablespoons of butter, then peppers. Continue to sauté, stirring, until peppers are starting to color. Then add remaining butter. After butter is melted, add optional leeks and corn. Season with salt and pepper. Sauté, tossing with a spatula until corn is cooked through. Turn off heat.

Cook pasta. When done, drain, reserving cooking water.

Turn heat back on under skillet. Add cooked pasta and toss, adding up to a cup or more of pasta water until pasta and corn mixture are mixed.

Plate and serve with Parmesan cheese, if desired. But it really isn’t necessary.


  1. I have to admit I usually use canned corn for pasta , lazy me, because I thought I had to cook the fresh corn kernels separately (and because I love to halve empty the can with a spoon first). Now I learn I can simply add it to the rest of the sauce, so no more excuses. Next time I see fresh corn, I´ll try – it sounds easy and wonderfully flavored, plus my kids love corn, too. Merci, Michelle & Steve, merci Gourmandistan!

    • Ha! I know it’s hard to find fresh corn in France. (Somebody someday will explain to me why every crappy bistro makes a composed salad with thawed-from-frozen kernels. No wonder the French think they don’t like corn!)

  2. Wonderful; I love fresh corn and cannot wait for it to appear at our markets (soon, soon!). I make a kind of corn pesto, with parmesan and garlic, and bits of pancetta on top, but this sounds like a wonderful version; I’ll definitely add some hot peppers next time.

  3. One day I’ll get to try that Kentucky country ham that Calvin Trillin praised so highly. In the meantime I’ll have to make do with Wiltshire cured ham with Kent corn and peppers – I’m sure your recipe will still taste good 🙂

    • This is the best you can get, made not far away from where I grew up. They are the only people left here who can still cure it in barns (grandfathered in when the Safety Nazis took over). I wonder if British customs would let it in? No matter, I’m sure your Wiltshire and Kent combo would be great.

      • Sadly I don’t think British customs would let me keep the ham – hopefully they might at least eat it themselves though. I do hope that there are still some people who cure their hams at home and keep the whole thing a secret to keep the FDA away. Traditions like this need to be preserved 🙂

  4. “Kentuckifying”, eh? Having been born in good ole Kentuck, I’m going to have to give this recipe a try-out!! (We moved out when I was two years old, so I probably missed a lot of things. But I do love fresh corn!

    • How sweet, Conor! OK I get the ham, but no corn? I know, I know, it’s a New World crop. But I always laugh when in Europe (though, sadly, I haven’t made it to my ancestral home yet) how much corn you see growing. I guess for fuel and livestock?

      • Driving through rural France, one can go for miles without seeing anything growing except corn. I am told that this is winter feed for cattle. We do get a brief encounter with fresh corn in its leaves but oh, so brief. It really is not hot enough to grow it successfully here in Ireland (to the best of my limited knowledge).

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