A New Spin on Pasta

Try some lighter recipes for the long, hot days of summer.

Eugenia Uhl Photograph

When it’s hot, we tend to want to eat lighter fare. Fortunately, warm summer weather is accompanied by a bounty from our gardens. Crops such as tomatoes, zucchini, corn, blackberries, squash, broccoli, peaches, melons, chiles, eggplant, figs, string and shell beans, peas and okra are harvested from late spring until things begin to cool down in September. I hope the following recipes will give you some ideas for what to do with all of the produce exploding from your garden. The recipes all focus on pasta in one form or another, but some could be repurposed for other uses, as you’ll see.

 

 

 

 



Linguine With Corn-and-Crabmeat Cream Sauce
Corn-and-crabmeat soup is a classic. In this pasta sauce, a purée of corn makes up the bulk of the creaminess, though a little heavy whipping cream gives it an unmistakable mouth-feel. Because this is a fairly subtly flavored dish, you may want to consider using fresh pasta. You can make it yourself, of course, but most grocers now carry reasonably good premade fresh pasta. Be aware that it takes considerably less time to cook (and thus overcook) fresh pasta as opposed to dried.

Linguine With Corn-and-
Crabmeat Cream Sauce

2 cups sweet corn kernels (3 to 4 ears)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 cup stock (crab, seafood or chicken)
Salt and freshly ground white pepper
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/2 pound lump crabmeat
1 pound linguine
Freshly grated Parmesan cheese, to finish (optional)


Position a shucked ear of corn over a bowl, and with a sharp knife, cut from tip to stem to remove the kernels. Turn the knife around, and use the back to scrape down the cob to release the remaining pulp and liquid into the bowl. Melt the butter over medium-low heat in a saucepan, and add the corn. Let it cook for a minute or two, and then add the stock. Season with a little salt and some freshly ground pepper, preferably white pepper. Cover the pan, and cook on low heat for around 10 minutes or until the corn is just tender.  

Start a large pot of salted water on high heat, and bring to a rolling boil.

Transfer the corn to a blender, working in batches if necessary, and purée. Add some of the heavy cream as necessary to keep things moving. When the corn is puréed, you’ll want the texture to be a bit thicker than heavy cream by itself. Add this to a pan large enough to hold the pasta, and heat it gently. If the sauce is too thick, add some of the remaining cream; if it’s too loose, reduce it on medium-low heat, stirring occasionally. When the sauce is where you want it, add the pasta to the boiling water, and while it cooks, add the crabmeat to the sauce, being careful not to stir too much and break up the lumps of crabmeat. Season again with salt and pepper, and then add the pasta to the pan, again being careful to avoid breaking up too much of the crabmeat. If you like, you can top this with freshly grated Parmesan cheese, though some purists will tell you that’s sacrilege. You can also garnish this with minced fresh tarragon or, if you can find it, fresh chervil. Serves 4.
 



Stir-fried Beef and Rice Noodles
This recipe is quick to prepare but does require some focused attention for about 15 minutes. The only two ingredients that may be unfamiliar – rice noodles and roasted red chile paste – are available in my local Rouses, made by a company called Thai Kitchen. You’re looking for noodles that are the approximate width of linguine or fettuccine, but just about anything will work if you follow the package directions for cooking in a stir-fry. The chile paste here is more sweet than hot; if you use a different brand, make sure you taste it before you add it to the dish. The trick to this recipe is to have everything ready to cook when you drop the noodles into the water. You’ll need a wok for this (they can be purchased inexpensively) or at the very least, a really deep, wide pan.

Stir-fried Beef and Rice Noodles

For the marinade:
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon rice wine
1 teaspoon corn starch

3/4 pound beef top round steak, cut across the grain into strips approximately 2 inches long
1 cup carrots, cut into julienned strips about 2 inches long (about 2 to 3 carrots)
1 cup poblano pepper, cut into julienned strips about 2 inches long (1 pepper)
2 cups leeks, cut into julienned strips about 2 inches long (2 to 3 medium leeks, white part only)
4 cups cabbage, shredded (1/2 of a medium head of cabbage)
2 tablespoons peanut oil
1 14-ounce package of rice noodles

For the sauce:
1 1/2 tablespoons roasted red chile paste
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1/4 cup water

Fresh herbs if desired


Bring a large pot of water to a boil.

Mix the ingredients for the marinade, and then add the beef.

Prepare the vegetables; keep the leeks separate from the carrots, pepper and cabbage.

Place a wok on the highest heat setting on your cooktop, and after a couple of minutes, add a tablespoon of peanut oil. Add the beef with the marinade, and stir-fry until the beef is no longer pink. Remove the meat and any juices to a bowl.

Add the rice noodles to the boiling water, turn off the heat, and set a timer for 10 minutes.

Wipe the wok with some paper towels, and then put it back on the flame. When it’s hot again, add another tablespoon of peanut oil and then the leeks. Stir-fry for 1 minute, and then add the other vegetables. Combine the ingredients for the sauce. Stir-fry the vegetables for about 5 minutes, and then add the sauce. Continue cooking for a few minutes, turning down the heat if necessary.

Around this time, the timer should be going off. Drain the noodles in a colander, and rinse them under cool water. Shake the colander to drain the cooled noodles. They should be almost but not completely cooked.

Continue to stir-fry the vegetables until the cabbage is tender, and then add the beef and any juices that have collected. Stir for a few minutes, turning up the heat, and then add the noodles, tossing to combine. Taste, and add additional roasted chile paste if you like. You can also add fresh herbs at this point – mint, Thai basil, cilantro or a combination would all work. Serves 4.



Raw Tomato Sauce With Basil
Nothing says summer in South Louisiana like Creole tomatoes. There’s no shortage of ways to prepare them, but perhaps the best is simply sliced and seasoned with salt and a little good olive oil. You can enjoy the same fresh flavor as a pasta sauce – and with very little additional effort.

Raw Tomato Sauce With Basil

2 pounds ripe tomatoes
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 cup loosely packed fresh basil leaves, cut into chiffonade
1 pound dried spaghetti


Boil a large pot of salted water. Add the tomatoes, and let them simmer for about 10 seconds. Remove them from the pot with a skimmer or a slotted spoon, and immediately plunge them into a bowl of ice water. Place a fine-mesh strainer over a large bowl. Use your fingers to remove and discard the skins, and then crush the tomatoes lightly, removing as many of the seeds as you can. The bowl will catch a good bit of tomato liquid if your tomatoes are fresh.

Put the tomatoes onto a cutting board, and remove any hard core sections. Roughly chop the remaining flesh, and put it in the bowl with the tomato liquid. Season the tomatoes with salt and freshly ground pepper. Add the olive oil, and scatter in the fresh basil.

In the same large pot in which you blanched the tomatoes, boil the pasta until it is just done. Working quickly, drain the pasta, and then add it to the raw tomatoes. Stir to combine and to allow the pasta to just warm the tomato sauce. Serves 4.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 



Grilled Summer Vegetable Pasta
Zucchini, eggplant and tomatoes are a traditional combination, and all are also typically in great abundance in the summer. By grilling the vegetables and combining them with diced tomatoes, olives and capers, you’ve got a dish that works as a stand-alone meal or as an accompaniment to lamb or pork.

Grilled Summer Vegetable Pasta

2 large zucchini, cut lengthwise into 1/4-inch slices
1 large or 2 medium-small eggplant, cut lengthwise into 1/2-inch slices
Salt and freshly ground pepper
3 to 4 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 clove garlic, minced
2 large ripe tomatoes
1/2 cup pitted olives such as Kalamata, roughly chopped
1 tablespoon capers, roughly chopped
1/4 cup fresh parsley, finely chopped
3 cups dried pasta such as penne, strozzapreti or casarecce
Extra-virgin olive oil to finish


Start a large pot of salted water on high heat.

Prepare your grill for a medium-high fire.

Season the zucchini and eggplant slices with salt and a little freshly ground pepper. Mix the olive oil, lemon and garlic in a large shallow baking dish; add the zucchini and eggplant; and turn to coat.

Cut the tops and bottoms from the tomatoes to expose the seeds, and squeeze as many of them out as you can. Remove the cores, and cut the remaining flesh into small dice. Add the diced tomatoes to a large bowl, and season with a little salt.

Grill the zucchini and eggplant over direct heat on both sides until they’re just tender and have taken a little color from the fire. Remove them to a chopping board, and dice. Add the vegetables to the tomatoes along with the olives, capers and parsley. Season with salt and pepper to taste. At this point, you can either add the sauce to a pan and cook it a bit while the pasta boils, or you can leave it in the bowl and simply add the warm pasta to finish the dish. If you decide to cook it, the tomatoes will break down a bit, giving you a looser sauce.

Finish the dish by drizzling over some good olive oil. Serves 4.



Watermelon, Feta and Orzo Salad
A salty cheese like feta pairs well with watermelon, and its firm texture allows you to cut it and the watermelon into similarly sized pieces. Mint provides an herbal note to this chilled salad, which is a great accompaniment to grilled chicken marinated with lemon, garlic and fresh oregano.

Watermelon, Feta and Orzo Salad

3 cups watermelon flesh, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 cup firm feta cheese, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
Pinch or two of kosher salt
1 1/2 cups orzo pasta
1/4 cup fresh mint leaves, roughly chopped
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil


Bring a large pot of salted water to a rolling boil. While the water comes to temperature, cut your watermelon and feta, and reserve. Season the watermelon lightly with salt; the cheese will add a lot of salt on its own.

Boil the pasta, and then drain in a colander, and rinse with cold water to remove the exterior starch. Drain thoroughly, and add to a large bowl. Add the watermelon, cheese and fresh mint, and mix carefully to avoid breaking up the cheese and the melon. Chill the salad; just before serving, drizzle with the olive oil, and mix gently to combine. Serves 4.

 

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