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Esquites-Style Poblano Pasta Salad

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Esquites is the creamy corn salad version of elote, the beloved Mexican street food where corn on the cob is slathered with mayo and sprinkled with chili powder and Cotija cheese. Here, we’ve taken esquites and turned it into a pasta salad, loaded with charred corn, zucchini, scallions, and poblano chile. A crema-mayo mixture flavored with lime and cilantro adds a bright finish, and Cotija and ancho chile powder seal the deal. The hearty dish is ideal for barbecues or packing for a picnic. We call for orecchiette, but you can also try this with shells, lumachi, or any smaller pasta that will catch the corn kernels in its nooks and crannies.

Active Time:

30 mins

Total Time:

30 mins

Yield:

6 to 8 servings

Ingredients

  • 12 ounces uncooked orecchiette pasta
  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil, divided
  • 6 cups fresh yellow corn kernels (cut from about 8 large ears)
  • 1 (about 4 ounces) bunch scallions, root ends and dark green parts trimmed
  • 1 medium (about 7 ounces) zucchini, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced crosswise (1 1/2 cups)
  • 1 medium-size (5 ounces) poblano chile, stemmed, seeded, and finely chopped (about 2/3 cup)
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more for garnish
  • ½ teaspoon ancho chile powder, plus more for garnish
  • 4 teaspoons kosher salt, divided, or more for seasoning
  • ¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons crema Mexicana
  • ¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons mayonnaise
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro, plus cilantro leaves for garnish
  • 1 teaspoon grated lime zest plus 2 tablespoons juice (from 1 lime)
  • 1 garlic clove, finely grated using a Microplane grater (about 1/2 teaspoon)
  • 2 ounces Cotija cheese, crumbled (about 1/2 cup), divided

Directions

  1. Cook pasta according to package directions. Drain and set aside.
  2. Meanwhile, heat 2 tablespoons of the vegetable oil in a large cast-iron skillet over medium-high. Add corn; cook, stirring occasionally, until kernels are lightly charred and tender, 8 to 10 minutes. Transfer corn to a large bowl. Wipe skillet clean. Add scallions to skillet; cook over medium-high, turning occasionally, until lightly charred, about 4 minutes. Transfer scallions to a cutting board, and thinly slice crosswise. Add scallions to corn in bowl. Add remaining 1 tablespoon vegetable oil to skillet, and reduce heat to medium. Add zucchini and poblano; cook, stirring occasionally, until tender and brown in some spots, about 5 minutes.
  3. Add zucchini, poblano, orecchiette, olive oil, black pepper, ancho chile powder, and 3 1/4 teaspoons of the salt to corn mixture in bowl; toss to combine. Let mixture cool at room temperature, about 30 minutes. (If desired, cooled corn mixture may be chilled at least 1 hour or up to 12 hours and served cold. Season with salt, if desired, before continuing.)
  4. Whisk together crema, mayonnaise, chopped cilantro, lime zest and juice, garlic, and remaining 3/4 teaspoon salt in a small bowl until combined. Transfer corn mixture to a large platter or bowl. Drizzle with 1/4 cup crema mixture; garnish with 3 or 4 grinds of black pepper and a sprinkle of ancho chile powder. Sprinkle with 1/4 cup of the Cotija, and garnish with cilantro leaves. Serve pasta salad with remaining ½ cup crema mixture and ¼ cup Cotija for drizzling and sprinkling on top.
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