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Cooking Off the Cuff: For the Corniest Corn Ravioli, Fire Up the Grill (Pan)

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One of life's little pleasures is biting into a plump piece of stuffed pasta and finding something unexpected inside -- assuming it's something nice. While not unheard-of, corn ravioli are uncommon enough that they're always a happy, delicious surprise, especially at this time of year, when they can be made from fresh locally grown corn.

Years and years ago, I tried out a filling that was basically creamed corn. It was pleasant, but no more so than just eating the corn with a spoon. Since then Jackie and I have had the version served at restaurant Jean-Georges in New York: very corny, very flavorful, very elegant -- and a little too elaborate in their sauce and accompaniments for me to feel like trying to emulate them, though I'll eat them any day of the week if someone else cooks them. But there's one thing about their filling that has made all the difference to the way I make them at home: The corn is charred before being cut from the cob and cooked with shallots and cream. This adds a new layer of flavor and lowers the corn's water content.

The Jean-Georges dish keeps the kernels whole and uses extraordinarily thin pasta wrappers: perfect with the accompanying tomatoes and copious but light basil puree. For home-made ravioli I prefer more homogeneous fillings and slightly more substantial pasta for a heartier raviolo that's also easier to handle. Here's how I've been making them this corn season.

A few hours in advance (or the day before) I shuck four plump ears of corn and cut each crosswise into three shorter segments: Their tapered shape prevents whole ears from lying flat on the grill pan. This makes enough for six generous appetizer portions. I then cook them (without any oil or seasoning) on a medium-hot ridged grill pan; if I had a real grill and felt like stoking the fire, I imagine I'd use that. I leave them alone till they are dark brown in places -- just shy of black here and here is fine, but you don't want them to actually carbonize -- then give them a little turn and repeat. The end result will be corn that's cooked and unevenly charred -- even the places that haven't browned will deepen in color. This can take 20 minutes or longer.

Meanwhile, I'm sweating two medium shallots, minced, in butter with salt and a generous amount of finely chopped fresh sage (another herb would be fine, of course).

After the corn has cooled enough to handle, I cut off the kernels and scrape off the starchy juice/pulp, all of which I add to the shallots over medium-high heat. When they've started to cook I pour in half a cup (say, 120 ml) white wine and reduce it to almost nothing, then a similar amount of heavy cream. When this comes to the boil, I transfer everything to the bowl of a food processor and pulse until it has formed a slightly coarse puree. This goes back into the pan, where I stir it over medium heat until it looks rather dry. If you taste it at this point (which you must do for the sake of seasoning -- it will need salt and pepper), you will find that it is actually not dry at all. Transfer the mixture, perfectly seasoned, to a bowl, let it cool, then refrigerate it. When cold, it will congeal and be easy to divide into portions either with a spoon or using a pastry bag.

Make two eggs' worth of pasta -- I start with 200 g (7 oz) flour -- and roll it out on a pasta machine to the second-to-finest thickness. Form your ravioli using 1/2 Tablespoon filling apiece. You can make them any shape you like; my current favorite (as illustrated in the accompanying photos) is based on what are called ravioli del plin (or agnolotti del plin). There are dozens of good videos on the Web showing how to make this shape and so many others.

If you're not cooking them immediately, you can refrigerate the ravioli for a couple of hours or, better, freeze them even if you're planning to use them the same day: There's less chance of the moisture in the filling compromising the pasta wrapper. From frozen, they take around six minutes (you want the pasta silky, not chalky); if just made, they'll take four and a half or five minutes.

I've always liked sweet peppers with corn, and I recently served these ravioli with diced roasted red pepper warmed through in butter. It was nice, but not as nice as my default "sauce": Heat plenty of butter in a skillet with sage leaves, and when the ravioli are nearly done add diced peeled tomatoes (quartered grape tomatoes are perfect) and salt, then toss the drained pasta in this instantaneous tomato sauce. I don't see that grated parmesan does anything for these ravioli, but I wouldn't withhold it from cheese aficionados.

Because of the initial grilling and the concentration of flavor and aroma, the corn in this filling tastes half again as corny as un-charred corn. And since corn accounts for probably 95 percent of the mixture, it truly is a lovely summer surprise to find in your pasta.

For The Corniest Corn Ravioli, Fire Up The Grill
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