Summer Pasta

Summer pasta meals are light and quick, and give you a chance to experiment with your garden veggies.

| June/July 1994

  • 144 summer pasta - radishes
    Add radishes when you made Mediterranean pasta salad.
  • 144 summer pasta - two plates
    Summer pasta meals can include linguine Alfredo with garden vegetables (blue plate) or Mediterranean pasta salad with fresh mint (shallow bowl).

  • 144 summer pasta - radishes
  • 144 summer pasta - two plates

I don't remember what year (or even what decade) it was that we began to refer to spaghetti as pasta. Growing up in the "spaghetti-os" era in a non-Italian family meant believing that anything vaguely resembling pasta drowned in a tomato-based sauce was classified as "spaghetti." (If you were under the age of eight, it was pronounced "s'getti"). Fortunately, we have evolved to the point where even the corner grocer carries a wide variety of pastas from which to choose. No longer considered a fattening food, pasta has become the "in" complex carbohydrate of the 90s. It's a good stuff-yourself food because complex carbohydrates are rarely stored as fat since they're the body's main source of energy. If you use a whole-grain pasta you will add fiber and B vitamins, which is even better, not to mention that pasta is fast, easy, and cheap.

Summer is the perfect time to experiment with your garden vegetables and favorite pasta for some light, healthy summer pasta meals on hot evenings. My Italian friends insist that there are pasta "rules," such as using a certain pasta depending on the type of sauce. I do respect these rules but rarely follow them since the meal is dependent upon what's in the pantry a half hour before dinner. I once sautéed some baby garden beets with leftover linguine, garlic, and grated ginger for my lunch. My son's remark, as he passed through the kitchen was, "Mom, that's totally gross." At last. A meal all to myself. Just remember that the secret to a low-fat, healthier pasta dish is in the sauce. A plateful of pasta (about 4 ounces), minus the sauce, contains only 4 grams of fat. Instead of using hefty amounts of cream and olive oil, substitute chicken broth, wine, and tomatoes. Use fresh herbs, hot peppers, garlic, and just a little extra-virgin olive oil to give the pasta added flavor.

Pasta Preparation

If pasta is overcooked it absorbs too much water and becomes mushy. When it is cooked "al dente," meaning "to the tooth;" it's still chewy without being undercooked. For the best tasting pasta these techniques are advisable:

  1. Fill a large soup pot 3/4 full with cold water, using at least 4 quarts of water even if you're only making pasta for two. Don't prepare two types of pasta in the same pot.
  2. When the water comes to a boil, add about 1/2 teaspoon of salt. When it returns to a boil, add the pasta, keeping the flame on high until it begins to foam. Then reduce heat to medium-high.
  3. Stir occasionally so the pasta won't stick together. Don't follow the suggested cooking times on the pasta box too closely. To know when the pasta is done you must taste it. If it has a raw taste, continue to boil. A thin pasta such as angel hair, or cappellini, will be ready in a few minutes, whereas a thicker pasta such as fettucine may take about five minutes. Whole-grain pasta takes a few minutes longer than the white-durum semolina pastas. Freshly made pasta will cook much faster than a boxed dried pasta.
  4. When the pasta is cooked sufficiently, pour it into a colander to drain. Shake to drain well, making sure that all excess water is gone before tossing it with the sauce. Don't rinse in cold water unless you're making a pasta salad.

Linguine Alfredo with Garden Vegetables

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 teaspoon jalapeño or serrano pepper — seeded and minced (use 1/2 teaspoon if you like it a little hotter)
1 small sweet red pepper — seeded and thinly sliced
2 small yellow summer squashes — halved lengthwise and thinly sliced diagonally (2 cups)
8 ounces linguine
1/2 cup canned evaporated skim milk
1/2 teaspoon salt
freshly ground pepper
1 1/2 cups broccoli tops — chopped, but not too small
1 cup fresh snow peas (optional)
1/2 teaspoon grated lemon rind
1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan or Romano cheese (I use Pecorino Romano for more flavor)
1/3 cup fresh basil — sliced (cut with scissors) or chopped Italian parsley. During winter months when fresh herbs are not available, use fresh parsley instead  

Put water on to boil for the pasta. Sauté the garlic and hot pepper in the oil for about 30 seconds. Add the red pepper and summer squash. Sauté on medium-high heat about 2 - 2 1/2 minutes, stirring often. Meanwhile put linguine in boiling water to cook. To the pepper/squash mixture add the evaporated milk, salt and pepper and let it cook a minute or so. Add the broccoli and snow peas and simmer on medium heat until the vegetables are just done but crisp (about 1 1/2 minutes). Drain the linguine when done, and in a large bowl toss the linguine, vegetables, lemon rind, cheese and finally basil. Serve topped with extra cheese if desired.

Mediterranean Pasta Salad

3 cups uncooked fusilli (spirals) or seashell pasta (I use a whole-grain pasta)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 cup fresh snow peas — cut diagonally into thirds
4 medium radishes — trimmed and thinly sliced
4 green onions — finely chopped
1/4 cup calamata (Greek) black olives — pitted and diced
1/2 cup (4 oz) feta cheese — cut into small cubes
2 tablespoons fresh oregano* — finely chopped (or 2 teaspoons dried)
2 tablespoons fresh mint* — finely chopped (or 2 teaspoons dried)
10-12 cherry tomatoes — halved  

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