Fresh and simple summer pasta

Winter pasta dishes are heavy, filling comfort foods to cheer us up on chilly, dark, dismal days. In contrast, summer pasta dishes are light and refreshing, full of fresh flavor. High quality ingredients, like fresh-picked produce from the garden or farmers’ market and fresh cheeses, make all the difference.

Summer is not a time for heavy-duty cooking, but for light, refreshing fare. You don’t have time to toil over a hot stove, and you don’t want to heat up the house by using the oven. It’s a great time of year to enjoy quick cooking pasta. What better way to showcase the fresh goodness of summers’ vegetables and fruits?

Load up your pasta dish with vegetables that abound right now at the farmers’ market. There is an array of zucchini and summer squashes, various kinds of beans, tomatoes and spicy greens like collards, kale, turnip or beet. Fresh vegetables are packed with flavor and healthy antioxidants, so fill up! Lightly cooked veggies blend well with the sauce and noodles.

Pasta comes in many shapes beyond spaghetti or macaroni, offering limitless possibilities. There is bow-tie pasta, little ears or orecchiette, tubular pasta like ziti or rigatoni. You can use gluten-free pasta if you choose. Add veggies, beans, cheese or meat to create an endless array of light, fast and easy entrees.

Sauces for summer pasta are fast and fresh. They’re not the winter ragu or meat sauces that simmer all day in a kettle on the stove. Instead, they make liberal use of fresh summer herbs and flavors. Basil, dill, tarragon, parsley, mint, oregano and thyme will add great flavor to your summer veggie pasta. They enhance the flavor of summer vegetables and are delicious tossed with pasta.

Olive oil with some sauteed herbs and veggies can make a simple, delicious sauce. Pesto of all types — from basil to arugula or even parsley — is one way to use abundant seasonal herbs. For a simple sauce using the season’s freshest, tastiest tomatoes, simply chop tomatoes, basil, and garlic, combine with a little salt, pepper, olive oil and balsamic vinegar, and let it sit for an hour. Then toss with hot cooked pasta and sprinkle with freshly grated parmesan.

Don’t skip the cheese. A generous handful of flavorful cheese like feta, cheddar, pecorino romano or parmesan will enhance any pasta-vegetable combination. Delicious, fresh cheeses are plentiful at the farmers’ market.

Here are three recipe ideas to help you use the bounty of summer produce.

Summer Pasta with greens, tomatoes

and ham

Ingredients:

1 bunch (or 1 lb.) fresh greens like kale, collards, turnip greens, etc.

1 Tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

1 onion

2 to 3 garlic scapes (substitute with a clove of garlic if you don’t have them).

4 ounces of pasta, such as rotini or fusilli

2 large tomatoes or 1 can (1 1/2 cups) diced tomatoes

1 or 2 cups diced cooked ham

2 to 4 Tablespoons crumbled feta or sharp Cheddar, optional

Directions:

Wash greens in several changes of water to remove dirt. Cut leaves from tough stems (discard stems). Chop coarsely and set aside.

Put a pot of water with 1 teaspoon salt on to boil. When water boils, add pasta and cook according to package directions. Drain and set aside (reserve a little pasta cooking water).

In large skillet, heat 1 Tablespoon of oil. Peel and chop onion and garlic scapes. Add to skillet, sprinkle lightly with salt, cover and cook on low five to seven minutes, stirring occasionally. Add chopped greens and a half cup of broth or pasta cooking water. Cook until wilted and tender. Dice tomatoes and add (seed and peel first if you like; I rarely bother). Cook one to two minutes; stir in drained pasta, diced cooked ham, and cheese if using. Cook and stir until heated through. Serves two to three.

Summer Pasta Ratatouille

For ease of preparation, cut up all the ingredients ahead of time.

Ingredients:

1 pound of eggplants

1 Tablespoon salt

1/4 pound pasta

1 or 2 onions

2 Tablespoons olive oil

2 cloves garlic (or several garlic scapes)

1 or 2 medium zucchini

2 large tomatoes

1/4 teaspoon pepper

1/2 cup fresh basil

1 Tablespoon fresh thyme

2 cups cooked garbanzo or navy beans

1 cup grated sharp cheese, optional

Directions:

Cut eggplants into cubes. Toss with a tablespoon of salt and place in a colander over the sink.

Put a pot of water with 1 teaspoon salt on to boil. When water boils, add pasta and cook according to package directions. Drain and set aside

While pasta cooks, heat oil in skillet. Peel and dice the onion, and add. Cook 5 minutes. Rinse the eggplant and add. Cook on low about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Peel and mince the garlic and add. Chop the zucchini and tomatoes, and add. Add herbs. Cook 15 minutes longer, until vegetables are soft.

For a vegetarian main course, stir in beans and pasta. Serve in bowls, topped with grated cheese.

Serves two to four.

Summer Pasta with

Beans and fresh herbs

Ingredients:

1 pound fresh beans (I like to use 1/2 pound green and 1/2 pound wax)

1 teaspoon salt

1 Tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

1 onion

2 to 3 garlic scapes (substitute with a clove of garlic if you don’t have them).

1 cup fresh basil leaves, rinsed

1/2 pound ziti or other tubular pasta

1 cup cooked or canned garbanzo beans (or other beans like navy, black, kidney)

8 ounce (1 cup) fresh white cheese, such as ricotta or cottage cheese, or feta

Zest of 1 lemon

Pinch crushed red pepper flakes

1/42 cup sharp shredded cheese such as sharp Cheddar, Parmesan or Pecorino

Directions:

Prepare beans – remove stem ends and rinse. Break longer ones into 2″ lengths. Set aside.

Put a pot of water with 1 teaspoon salt on to boil.

In large skillet, heat 1 Tablespoon of oil. Peel and chop onion and garlic scapes. Add to skillet, sprinkle lightly with salt, cover and cook on low 5 – 7 minutes, stirring occasionally. Chop or crush basil, add and cook a minute or two longer.

When water boils, add ziti and cook according to package directions. About three to four minutes before pasta is done, add the beans. When pasta and beans are al-dente, drain, reserving 1 cup of the pasta cooking water. Add to skillet with onions, garlic and basil; add cooked garbanzo beans; stir to combine.

Add the cheese, lemon zest, pepper flakes and some of the reserved pasta water to make a creamy sauce. Stir into the skillet and cook a couple minutes; sauce should be creamy.

Serve, topped with shredded cheese, along with a salad of fresh garden greens. Serves four.

Author of the award-winning cookbook Garden Gourmet: Fresh & Fabulous Meals from your Garden, CSA or Farmers’ Market, Yvona Fast lives in Lake Clear and has two passions: cooking and writing. She can be reached at www.wordsaremyworld.com, yvonawrite@yahoo.com or on

Facebook as Author Yvona Fast.

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