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Don't have that specific ingredient on hand? Go ahead, you have our permission to substitute

Pasta with grilled swordfish and corn

Pasta with grilled swordfish and corn. 

As a teacher, I dread writing sub plans. It can be challenging to devise assignments that can be administered by a substitute teacher (especially since I’m a Latin teacher), and that are worthwhile and engaging. And yet, sometimes, under the stress of producing good sub plans, I find myself coming up with creative ideas!

In cooking, too, substitutions can be the impetus for creativity, and yet the topic is not without controversy. Some food writers and cookbook authors assert that any substitution will ruin the integrity of the dish, particularly when referring to cuisine from other lands and cultures. There is some merit to this idea, but it is important to remember that for generations, immigrants have often had to make substitutions in their new homes, so the issue is much more complex than it appears on the surface.

We are quite lucky in the Berkshires to have excellent resources for a wide variety of ingredients, and mail-order has made it possible to source unusual ingredients. However, that is not true everywhere, and sometimes it is helpful to suggest substitutions. In the early days of the pandemic, I found myself making some substitutions in an effort not to spend extra time shopping, like the time I used flour tortillas for moo shu chicken. Was it authentic? No. Did I enjoy it as an approximation of a dish I like? Absolutely.

I believe it’s valuable and, in fact, considerate, to try to work variations into my recipes. People have all sorts of dietary restrictions, whether for religious, health, or ethical reasons, which leads to my recipe here. My husband saw a recipe for a pasta with scallops and corn, but he is allergic to shellfish. He suggested we grill a piece of swordfish, then cut it into pieces to revise the dish so he could enjoy it. We’ve now made it a few times and are quite pleased with the final result. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t make your own adjustments if you want!

Not allergic to shellfish? By all means sear some scallops in place of the swordfish! It’s now been a little over a year that I’ve been writing these columns for the Berkshire Eagle, and one of my most treasured compliments was when a friend told me that my columns have given her permission and made her feel more comfortable to experiment! Even one of my sons, after I wrote about his favorite pasta a few months ago, told me how he made changes to my recipe. I love giving people the ideas and the inspiration to be creative in the kitchen, and be sure to let me know what fun and interesting variations you discover!


Serves 2-4


8 ounces swordfish

Canola oil for brushing, salt for sprinkling

12 ounces pasta, preferably a shape like orecchiette or medium shells

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

2-3 scallions, white and light green parts, chopped

2 cups corn, defrosted and drained of excess water if frozen

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/8 teaspoon fresh ground pepper

1/8 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

1 teaspoon lemon zest

1 tablespoon lemon juice

2 tablespoons pesto, store-bought or homemade, dairy-free if desired

1/3 cup heavy cream, optional (pasta water can be used to avoid dairy)

Grated Parmesan cheese for serving, optional


Preheat the grill to high. Brush the swordfish on both sides with a bit of canola oil and sprinkle with a bit of salt. Reduce heat to medium-high and grill about 3 minutes per side until just cooked through. Set aside to cool a bit, and then cut into bite-sized pieces.

Bring a pot of salted water to boil and add the pasta to cook according to package directions. As long as the pasta shape takes at least 10 minutes, you can start the rest of the dish when you start the pasta.

Heat the olive oil in a very large sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add the scallion, corn, salt, pepper, and crushed red pepper flakes, and cook, stirring frequently until scallions are softened and the corn is beginning to brown a bit. Add the swordfish pieces and stir to combine. If it seems to be getting too dry before the pasta is done, turn the heat down for a few minutes. About a minute before the pasta is done, add the lemon zest and juice and stir, then add the pesto.

When the pasta is al dente, move the pasta pot right next to the sauté pan and turn the heat underneath the pan to medium if it has been turned down. Remove the pasta from the water with a spider or strainer* directly into the sauté pan. Stir gently to combine, add the cream, and stir again. If it seems dry, add a tablespoon or two of pasta water. If not using cream, add 1/4 cup reserved pasta water to the pan, and allow to cook for a minute to bring the dish together. Taste and adjust salt and pepper as needed.

Serve immediately, passing Parmesan at the table if desired.

*Alternately you can use a colander to drain the pasta, but if you do so, be sure to save some pasta water.

Elizabeth Baer is a teacher who loves to spend time in the kitchen. She also posts recipes and musings about food on her blog, www.culinursa.com/blog and can be reached at culinursa@gmail.com.

Elizabeth Baer is a teacher who loves to spend time in the kitchen. She also posts recipes and musings about food on her blog, culinursa.com/blog and can be reached at culinursa@gmail.com.

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