The kitchen garden is full of high-summer vegetables: tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, beans, corn, zucchini. So many possibilities for delicious meals. We have two favorite summer vegetable pasta sauces, Grilled Eggplant with Sun-dried Tomatoes and Goat Cheese Puree from Jack Bishop’s Pasta & Verdura, 140 Vegetable Sauces for Spaghetti, Fusilli, Rigatoni, and All Other Noodles (1996) and
Fagiolini con Pomodoro, Aglio e Basilico, a saute of green beans, tomatoes, garlic and basil from Marcella Hazan’s Marcella’s Italian Kitchen (1986) that make fine use of this high-summer bounty.
This week, I’ve tried two more vegetable pasta sauces that will become favorites as well. One is Zucchini Spaghetti alla Nerano from Food 52, “a legendary pasta made of spaghetti and fried zucchini was apparently invented in 1952 by Maria Grazia, who owned a restaurant in Nerano that bears her name.” The other is Creamy Corn Pasta with Basil from Melissa Clark at the New York Times. Each of these vegetable pasta sauces includes a puree of the vegetable as the base for the sauce, a wonderful technique that intensifies the flavor of the vegetable. Each recipe is also accompanied by a video which illustrates this technique. I watched the videos that accompany each recipe several times before making the sauces the first time, just to get the timing sequence down. I may watch them again the next time I make each of these delicious sauces, but after that I should be on my own.
The simple ingredients become a dish very quickly—because you must multitask. While the pasta water is boiling, the zucchini are frying. Then the spaghetti is cooking. A quick purée is made out of some of the zucchini, and then it’s all tossed together. The result is a fast, exceptionally tasty pasta dish, where the sauce clings to each strand of spaghetti. Don’t think the frying or the touch of butter will make this dish heavy—it’s not remotely, and the butter helps “mantecare”—that is, to create that clingy sauce that you need.
1 clove garlic
1/2 cup (125 milliliters) olive oil
5 small zucchini, sliced into very thin rounds (I used a mandolin on the 3mm thickness.)
Salt and pepper
11 ounces (320 grams) spaghetti
3 ounces (80 grams) grated Provolone del Monaco (or Parmesan)
1 knob of cold, unsalted butter
1 handful basil leaves
Put a large pot of water on to boil for the spaghetti.
In a wide skillet over medium-high heat, add the garlic clove and olive oil so the mixture sizzles and the oil gets infused by the garlic. When just golden, remove the garlic and add the zucchini rounds. Toss every now and then, letting the zucchini fry away until tender but not brown.
In the meantime, add a teaspoon of salt to the boiling water, then place spaghetti in the pot.
Drain the zucchini on paper towels and season with a pinch of salt and some freshly ground pepper. Keep warm. Blend together about a third of the zucchini and about 1/4 cup (60 milliliters) of water from the pot of pasta—I use a glass jar with a handheld blender for this. (I used my food processor.) Pour this purée into a large serving bowl, where you will eventually add all the pasta.
When the spaghetti is al dente (take out about 1 minute before the suggested cooking time on the packet), drain, saving about 1/2 cup of the cooking water. Toss the spaghetti into the serving bowl with the purée, the grated cheese, the fried zucchini, and the cold butter. Quickly toss, using tongs or a spatula to help you. You want spaghetti to be silky and just coated with the purée, not dry but not watery either. If it’s too dry, add cooking water a little at a time. Top with the basil leaves and serve immediately.
There’s no cream in this wonderfully summery pasta dish, just a luscious sauce made from puréed fresh corn and sweet sautéed scallions, along with Parmesan for depth and red chile flakes for a contrasting bite. Be sure to add the lemon juice and fresh herbs at the end; the rich pasta really benefits from their bright, fresh flavors. And while this is best made at the height of corn season, it’s still quite good even with out-of-season supermarket ears, or with frozen corn.
12 ounces dry orecchiette or farfalle
1 tablespoon olive oil, plus more for drizzling
1 bunch scallions (about 8), trimmed and thinly sliced (keep the whites and greens separate) (I used half a red onion because that’s what I had.)
2 large ears corn, shucked and kernels removed (2 cups kernels) (The ears from my kitchen garden are smaller, so I used 4.)
½ teaspoon ground black pepper, more for serving
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
½ cup grated Parmesan cheese, more to taste
⅓ cup torn basil or mint, more for garnish
¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes, or to taste
Fresh lemon juice, as needed
Bring a large pot of well-salted water to a boil. Cook pasta until 1 minute shy of al dente, according to the package directions. Drain, reserving 1/2 cup of pasta water.
Meanwhile, heat oil in large sauté pan over medium heat; add scallion whites and a pinch of salt and cook until soft, 3 minutes. Add 1/4 cup water and all but 1/4 cup corn; simmer until corn is heated through and almost tender, 3 to 5 minutes. Add 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper, transfer to a blender, and purée mixture until smooth, adding a little extra water if needed to get a thick but pourable texture.
Heat the same skillet over high heat. Add butter and let melt. Add reserved 1/4 cup corn and cook until tender, 1 to 2 minutes. (It’s O.K. if the butter browns; that deepens the flavor.) Add the corn purée and cook for 30 seconds to heat and combine the flavors.
Reduce heat to medium. Add pasta and half the reserved pasta cooking water, tossing to coat. Cook for 1 minute, then add a little more of the pasta cooking water if the mixture seems too thick. Stir in 1/4 cup of the scallion greens, the Parmesan, the herbs, the red pepper flakes, 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Sprinkle with fresh lemon juice to taste. Transfer to warm pasta bowls and garnish with more scallions, herbs, a drizzle of olive oil and black pepper.