I'm not the biggest fan of large crowds but when we lived in the Twin Cities, I looked forward to the Minnesota State Fair for two reasons -- the animal barns and the food. And in particular, I always beelined to the grilled corn on the cob booth (and the fried pickles but that's another blog post). There's nothing quite like sweet corn, hot off the grill, and dripping with butter....until I encountered Elote, or Mexican street corn. That was a game-changer.
Imagine this -- grilled sweet corn, basted with Crema Mexicana, and then rolled in crumbled quesco fresco, Tajin, and cilantro. While good-old corn on the cob with butter and salt will always have a place in my heart, its South-of-the-Border cousin has become a main-stage player in our summer dinner rotation.
We've had corn in our CSA boxes for the past few weeks and I had 3 lonely ears of corn in my fridge, looking for a job (yes, I have CSA veggie orphans in my fridge as well!). It was pizza night and I figured why not introduce Mexican street corn to Italian pizza?? I had a recipe for cilantro pesto that didn't make the cut for the cookbook -- turned out it was the perfect substitute for a tomato-based pizza sauce (if you have any leftovers, it really adds a little something-something to a fried egg sandwich with avocado). The pesto recipe, combined with the lonely ears of corn and the leftover Crema from our tamale dinner provided just the right amount of inspiration for this Elote pizza .
If you don't have Crema Mexicana in your fridge, you can substitute creme fraiche thinned with a little buttermilk, but the Tajin and quesco fresco are key to getting the flavors 'right' for this pizza. You can find Tajin at Hansen's IGA in Washburn and the Chequamegon Food Co-op in Ashland has quesco fresco. If you don't live in the Chequamegon Bay area, check out Cub foods or a Hispanic grocery store -- they'll be able to set you up. I've made all sorts of pizzas and while it's hard to pick a favorite, this pizza was seriously good....and it'll be on the menu again before corn season is over!
(makes 3 or 4 pizzas)
Pizza dough (recipe here) or use your favorite recipe
2 cups packed cilantro, leaves and tender stems, plus more for serving
1/2 cup olive oil
3/4 cup roasted pistachios, shelled
1/2 cup Parmesan, shredded
2 tablespoons lime juice, freshly squeezed
2 medium garlic cloves
1 teaspoon kosher salt (less if you are using salted pistachios)
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1 red onion, thinly sliced and divided
1 jalapeño (if you like it less spicy) or serrano (if you like it hot), seeded, sliced, and divided
3 ears of corn, husks and silk removed, and divided
1 1/2 cups of quesco fresco, crumbled and divided
1 cup Crema Mexicana
1/4 cup cilantro, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced or grated with a Microplane grater
Cilantro, rough chopped, and Tajin seasoning for serving.
Make the pesto. Combine all the pesto ingredients in the bowl of a food processor, except the olive oil, and pulse until mixture is coarse and combined. With the machine running, add the olive oil in a steady stream until the pesto is smooth and thoroughly combined. Set aside.
Make the sauce. In a small bowl, combine the Crema Mexicana, 1/4 cup cilantro, and minced garlic cloves and stir to mix thoroughly. Set aside.
Place the corn in boiling and salted water and cook for about 5 minutes. Remove from the water and allow to cool slightly. Once it's cool enough to handle, remove the kernels from the cob and set them aside.
When ready to assemble the pizzas, preheat the oven to 450°F and place a pizza stone in the oven. Heavily flour a work surface. Remove a tennis ball–sized piece of dough from the larger ball and roll it out into a 12-inch round on work surface. Using a fork, poke holes in the crust. Transfer the crust onto a pizza peel or a parchment-lined baking sheet without a lip.
Spread the pesto (about 1/3 cup) on the pizza dough and place a handful of sliced red onions, corn, serrano or jalapeño, and Queso Fresco on the pizza and then carefully place the pizza on the pizza stone and bake until the edges of the crust are brown and the onions and cheese are beginning to brown, about 10 minutes.
When the pizza is done, remove from oven and drizzle the Crema Mexicana, sprinkle the Tajin seasoning, and a toss a tablespoon or so of chopped cilantro on top and serve immediately.