Pasta with Tomatoes, Corn, Herbs & Feta

I am guessing it’s not easy being married to me. My temper can be short, and I have a habit of insisting on getting my way. But Joe’s soldiered on in our union for nine years. There are times I figured we might not be married by now, still. This may be normal, as far as marriages go. That every marriage is a locked box both perplexes and delights me, because there’s no need to measure what Joe and I have against larger yardstick: if it’s working, hey, go with it. I have friends who I look at and assume they must be living in harmony and bliss, but you never know. I have other friends who I marvel are still together. Knowing why and how is not my job, though; it’s theirs.

In those heartfelt odes to spouses I see people post on Facebook, this notion of a husband being “my best friend” comes up a lot. And fine if it is true for them, but Joe is not my best friend, because I already had a best friend when we met. There are things I tell Joe that I’d never tell a friend, and there are things I tell friends that I’d never tell him. It works because he gets that. I don’t want Joe to be everything to me. That seems unfair.

Today’s our anniversary. Earlier, I’d told Joe we were going to have tortilla Española with romesco sauce and a big tossed salad for dinner, and he was enthused. Our initial hope was to go to the Buckley House, which is our town’s dependable fancy-pants restaurant, but we’re low on cash at the moment, and a Buckley House dinner is not for lean times.

Some unexpected construction at my daughter’s daycare facility threw off my schedule, though, and I realized making romesco sauce would take longer than I’d like and create unwanted stress. So I switched to pasta with sweet corn and tomatoes instead. To me it’s the pinnacle of Ohio recipes, because sweet corn and tomatoes are the best we have to offer. Joe didn’t want to move here to Ohio, but he did. He’s still ambivalent. But I feel like I’m in my element. How can two people be so compatible yet never fully happy in the same location?

Joe does not do well with sudden changes, but he was okay with our dinner switchup. It resulted in fewer dirty dishes to clean, always a plus. We drank a $5.99 bottle of Spanish Tempranillo with our pasta. The herbs and tomatoes had come from our backyard; the corn, from a field somewhere in our county. It’s definitely GMO corn, engineered to be as sweet as a cold glass of Southern iced tea, but you can’t win ‘em all. And so goes marriage. You can’t have everything in one person. Spending life with a boring husband, to me, would be a terrible fate. Out marriage has been anything but boring, so we must be doing something right. Maybe I’ll make this pasta again in another nine years, for our 18th anniversary. Maybe we’ll go to the Buckley House instead. Does it matter? An anniversary is one day a year. It’s the other 364 days that really count.   

Pasta with Tomatoes, Corn, Herbs, and Feta

Serves 4

It was only after residing in a handful of other states that I realized the superiority of Ohio-grown tomatoes. This pasta cannot be made with grocery store produce; it is a summer-only dish. You can throw together sweet corn and beautiful homegrown tomatoes—the most coveted of summery Ohio foods—to make an incredibly fresh, flavorful pasta dish in a flash.

  • 3 to 4 large, ripe tomatoes, cored and chopped
  • 1/8 teaspoon Aleppo pepper
  • 2 to 3 ears fresh corn, or 1-2 cups cooked corn cut from leftover cobs of sweet corn* (and cripes, please don’t use grocery store corn or frozen corn. Not this time.)
  • Kosher salt, as needed
  • 8 ounces angel hair pasta
  • 4 large cloves garlic, sliced very thinly crosswise
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 cups loosely packed fresh basil leaves, thinly sliced, or a combination of fresh basil, thyme, and oregano (go heavy on the basil and lighter on the other herbs)
  • 4 to 6 ounces feta cheese, crumbled

Place the chopped tomatoes in a medium bowl. Add the Aleppo pepper; season generously with salt. Toss to combine and set aside.

Bring a large pot of salted water on to boil. If the corn hasn’t been cooked already, plunge the whole ears of corn into the water and cook for five minutes. Don’t drain the water; you’ll use it for cooking the pasta. When cool enough to handle, cut the ears from the corn and set aside.

Cook the pasta until al dente; drain..

Meanwhile, in a 9- to 10-inch skillet, heat the garlic and olive oil over high heat, stirring occasionally, until the garlic is a light golden-brown (do not allow to burn). Add the corn and cook until it’s heated through. Add the tomatoes and cook for just a minute. Remove from heat.

When the pasta is al dente, drain it. Add the saucy tomato-corn mixture; toss with the feta cheese and basil. Season to taste with more salt and pepper. Cover for a minute or two to let the pasta absorb the juices form the tomato sauce.

Divide the pasta among serving dishes. Crumble the feta cheese over each bowl and serve.

*Sometimes, leftover corn that’s been cut off the cob and stored for several days (or frozen and thawed) can be soggy. To dry it out and perk up the flavor, I toast it a heavy, dry medium skillet (preferably cast-iron) over medium-high, stirring occasionally, until charred spots appear on the corn, 2 to 3 minutes.

A Lovely Wreck of a Summer Sandwich

A summer sandwich is all about the moment. The whims of the person building it and the stuff that happens to sit on the counter or grow in the garden at that exact time result in that most personal of constructions, the produce-heavy Dagwoodian mess bookended by bread. It's about the watery tomato liquid mingling with mustard that drips down your arm and all over your magazine or paperback book as you sit outdoors, or wherever your happy place is. It's about the satisfaction of putting together a bunch of ingredients that make sense to no one’s mind but your own. Its about the ephemeral pleasure of wolfing the thing down before it collapses all over your lap, a slithering mess of cucumber slices and lettuce and relish and god knows what else.

My dearest wonderful wreck of a summer sandwich came about because of a story I heard on NPR last year. They held a contest for the ultimate summer recipe, and finalist Marti Olesen’s entry was for a crazy assemblage of tomatoes, sweet onion, cucumbers, and white cheddar cheese between whole grain bread that’s been smeared with peanut butter. As with any great sandwich, the order of the ingredients is as important as the ingredients themselves; it’s got to do with the messy mechanics of what hits your tongue first when you sink your teeth into the thing. Olesen assures listeners that the sandwich functions best when built thus, from top to bottom: cheese, tomato, cucumber, onion, peanut butter.

The other two finalists in the NPR contest offered recipes for strawberry trifle and Baja slaw. Trifle is trifling; slaw is slaw. A sandwich is a meal. I rooted for Olesen, and she won, to the great satisfaction of sandwich aficionados across the nation.

But I didn't make her sandwich. She inspired me to adapt it, and maybe that's the point. As an alternative jammy-sticky-sugary PB&J, my mom started making peanut butter and cheese sandwiches for my daughter. They’re not bad if you’re four years old, but an adult needs something more. Likewise, a sandwich of homegrown tomatoes and cucumbers sounds magnificent on paper, but in practice it’s wan and bland. 

So I combined the two. Lightly toast two slices of whole-grain bread (I prefer those circular flatbread/bun hybrids sometimes marketed as "sandwich skinnys", since the slight crumb of the bread makes the filling the star player). Generously spread crunchy natural peanut butter (it has to be salted) on one slice, and tomato-squash chutney on the other slice. (You probably don't have tomato-squash chutney; classic storebought Major Grey's can work in a pinch, or you can make your own squash chutney). Then shingle thinly sliced cucumber on the peanut butter. This is your base. Top the cucumber with thickly sliced ripe red tomato (beefsteak, please), then with one slice of Swiss or pepperjack cheese. Place the chutney-smeared bread over it all, then grab a lot of napkins. You will need them. Note: this sandwich does not travel. At all. That’s what makes it even more special. You need to be at home to enjoy it. Preferably on a porch, taking in all the ephemeral joys of summer.

Bigger Fish to Fry

“Fish fry” was not on the list when we moved to Ohio. This list, often amended, had two columns: PORTLAND and MARIETTA.


  • Mt. Tabor
  • Quince trees
  • Excellent drinking water
  • Winco
  • Family
  • Friends
  • Big, dirty river


  • Aldi
  • Cheaper rent
  • Even cheaper water bills
  • best homegrown tomatoes ever
  • Ramps
  • Family
  • Friends
  • Big, dirty river

I grew up here, in Marietta, but I never went to a fish fry until moving back over a year ago. Catholic churches have them as fundraisers on Friday nights during Lent. My parents had been raving about the St. Mary’s fish fry for ages.

The key to an optimal fish fry experience is acid. Bring half a mangled Meyer lemon and a nearly empty jar of herbed mustard from home. Squeeze the lemon all over the fish, stir a generous dab of mustard into the plastic cup of tartar sauce. Eschew the roll and the baked potato. Focus on the fish, the exterior of which is crispy and salty and greasy but not oily. The flaky flesh encased in the light batter steams when you bite into it. The church volunteers tell you it’s pollock. The baked fish option is not pollock, but one does not attend an all-you-can-eat fish fry for the baked fish.

There’s a table with desserts, crumbly and dry sugar cookies from the grocery store topped with brightly colored globs of icing. Do not go to this table. For dessert, eat more fried fish. Your husband may suggest to sneak in a beer, but that’s making it too complicated. Drink the beer at home, later, for your Hobbit-like second dessert. At $8.50 per adult, the fish fry is not only a steal. It is the best dinner in town that does not generate from my kitchen.

The PORTLAND/MARIETTA list plagues me. Portland—that Portland, the one in Oregon with its own quirky sketch comedy show—thrums with vitality and creativity. It’s a slam-dunk food town, with its zillion food carts and photogenic farmer’s markets and hidden pockets of ethnic restaurants. We lived there in a succession of little rental houses, where I tended gimpy garden plots and cranked out frugal dinners on electric stoves. I had an engaging job with an acclaimed public library system and a free transit pass.

But. There was the rain, so much of it, over and over again. There was mud, and unpaved streets with no sidewalks, and warped windows in our various bedrooms that the heat seeped through. Nine months of the year I was chilled to the bones, no matter how many sweaters I wore or how much hot tea I drank.

I wanted to love Portland, and I did. I wanted to love being there, and I couldn’t. Years passed; my mood darkened. Portlanders adore their city, and for a fellow Portlander not to feel the same way doesn’t compute to them. I felt isolated on our sodden, potholed street far off from the trendier neighborhoods where our friends lived.

We moved to Ohio just when things were looking up: I was in line for a promotion, my husband was finally getting calls from his oft-circulated resume. But I insisted.

It’s a small town, Marietta, in one of the whitest regions in America. Instead of the meth teeth I spotted on many Portland library patrons, I see Mountain Dew teeth. Our rental has, once again, an electric stove, but the house’s insulation is excellent, and we keep it toasty warm without sky-high utility bills.

The St. Mary’s fish fry is just blocks from this house. In Portland, we never would have pulled our little daughter in a wagon to the Catholic church fish fry on a Friday night. We never would have been excited to see a bulb of fennel at the grocery store (clumsily labeled “anise”). Our heartbeats would not have quickened at hearing a language other than English.

It’s unreasonable to compare the two cities, the two places, the two lives. And yet. I do, compulsively, measuring out our gains against our losses. The happiest glimpses of our time in Portland were when I was incredibly in the moment, soaking up goodness without overanalyzing it. Picking raspberries with Frances, walking to the playground across the street from our shitty house, drinking beer on a patio in the sun. Same goes for here. Same goes for anywhere, really. You find the joy you find, even if it’s not the joy you’d pick out for yourself. Even if “fish fry” is not on your list.

The St. Mary’s All-You-Can-Eat Fish Fry runs through April 11. BYO Meyer lemons and herbed mustard.

This article originally appeared on Food Riot, where I contribute regularly.