Summer-Loving Pastas

AHHHH….at last….SPRING…wonderful spring!

Can summer be far behind? After all, the flowers are in full bloom…the beach beckons, and lovers once again stroll hand-in-hand.

After last week’s post about Amalfi, I couldn’t stop thinking about all of the compelling summertime pasta choices that await us. So I thought I’d serve up a random (and by no means complete) view of warm weather pasta possibilities. You can serve some hot and some cold.

Now, I’ve probably eaten a couple hundred miles of spaghetti in my lifetime (and have the girth to prove it), but even so, I’ll never forget standouts like the wonderful lemon cream spaghetti in Positano and the vivid, unexpected flavors of the sour orange risotto that turned out to be a blank slate for a blizzard of freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano (a cheese born to “buddy-up” with fruit).

So, dear readers, what I am about to unleash for your consideration is a flurry of pasta ideas to bring sunshine to your summer dining, whether it’s just dinner on Tuesday night, a backyard picnic with neighbors, or a gathering of friends who, upon seeing your food, will DROP THEIR JAWS.

In some ways…this is a love letter to Italy.

But no recipes here – just ideas. You’re on your own for preparation details (but the internet will help).

Fistfuls of fresh herbs are involved. It’s spring and Morel mushrooms are springing up. Tomatoes of all stripes….heirloom, big fat Bushel Boys, and sweet cherry tomatoes will soon choke the farmers markets.

A few summer classics are worth mentioning….Linguine Alle Vongole (please use fresh clams in addition to canned, if only for the “clicking sounds). Spaghetti with mussels, shrimp and scallops in fresh tomato-basil sauce. Pasta Primavera. And the Sicilian icon: PASTA CON SARDE, topped with delicious homemade seasoned breadcrumbs instead of parmesan cheese. Remember, cows’ cheese is scarce in the south and, by and large, unaffordable. (Oh c’mon, Minnesota. You can handle SARDINES.)

Speaking of basil, probably the number one summer sauce is basil pesto – as easy to make as it is to enjoy. Most people make theirs with fresh basil, but really your options are endless. There’s arugula pesto, chive
pesto, watercress pesto…you get the idea.

A few more classics: Ramps (a relative of garlic, scallions, chives and leeks; and the rapture of seasonally obsessed chefs), tossed with spaghetti and a little olive oil, white wine, shallots, butter and a dash of red pepper flakes, with shards of Parmigiano on top. Get ‘em soon; they’re only around for a few weeks.

A Neapolitan favorite is Pasta All Norma: spaghetti tossed with grilled eggplant, garlic, EVOO, tomatoes and ricotta salata (semi-firm, salted, pressed and dried ricotta cheese). Check out the image below of a family platter we shared at Ristorante Marcello in Rome: a tri-color selection of three different pastas lined up to represent the Italian flag. BUT – check closely – isn’t the white supposed to go in the middle?

Then there’s the mother of all Roman pastas: Fettuccine Alfredo – a “must have.” Yeah, yeah, I know: It’s been around so long, it couldn’t be more of a cliché. But it’s one GOOD-ASSED PASTA – especially with a “still quaking” poached egg on top.

Finally, there are decent – even good – mozzarella and burrata cheeses in the best grocery stores (just be sure to check the “buy date” to get the freshest). The possibilities pack a magical punch. Little mozzarella balls called Bocconcini tossed with orecchiette, basil pesto and cherry tomatoes. My “go-to” would likely be burrata with roasted tomatoes, garlic and basil in a pasta of your choice.

These next two do not involve pasta….but I just cannot neglect them. The first is the Mozzarella Caprese salad at Manny’s (pictured), only available in high tomato season and assembled with burrata, fresh basil and extra virgin olive oil. The second – and this will cause a commotion at your dinner party, guaranteed – is fresh figs, cashews and creamy burrata resting on a bed of crispy arugula, drizzled with EVOO and a sprinkling of Maldon salt flakes and cracked black pepper.

Now it’s time for you to just browse the pictures. Beautiful pictures, many from Donna Hay … Australian food writer, cookbook author and all-around genius.

No rules here – well, just one: DO NOT SKIMP on the quality of your parmesan cheese. You MUST use Parmigiano Reggiano, aged for three years. Then just open your eyes and your mind and explore the ideas, variations, and possibilities.

Lastly, I’ll call your attention to two items: The faux “spaghetti” noodles made from zucchini with an impostor “meat ragu” masquerading as Bolognese sauce – Ingredients that would make an Italian grandmother roll her eyes. NOT GOOD.

But this dish is BEYOND GOOD – so prepare for an all-out assault on your taste buds: SPRING TRUFFLES (and lots of ‘em) over, or mixed with, pappardelle or most any shape of pasta. You can prepare this with creamy Alfredo sauce or a little truffle butter, extra virgin olive oil, fresh mushrooms (Morels or Porcinis please), cracked black pepper, and lots and lots of Parmigiano Reggiano. Consult the internet for additional ideas that might suit you.

In the meantime, as the Cole Porter song suggests: EXPERIMENT. Invite a few friends and neighbors over to share in the deliciously fleeting pleasures of the season.



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