If your household is anything like mine, pasta is a regular go-to supper, an easy, economical, reliable answer to that endless "what's for dinner" question.
In the winter, when cold Sunday afternoons seem made for simmering a slow-cooked pot of Bolognese sauce, pasta is a natural. But what about in the summer, when even the thought of a spag bol is unbearably hot and heavy?
It's time to explore hot-weather pastas, cheap and cheerful dishes with light, summer-friendly ingredients. Fresh and quick, these recipes can basically be tossed together in the time it takes to boil water.
Combining basic ingredients you might already have in the pantry and fridge (olive oil, garlic, olives, capers, cheese) with a few hits of fresh produce (basil, Italian parsley, peppery arugula), these recipes don't use a lot of meat or heavy cream. The sauces are finished with a little lemon or lime juice or a zap of balsamic vinegar.
In these recipes, the sauces just coat the pasta, so it's good to use a trick many chefs swear by: Near the end of the pasta's cooking time, scoop out a cup of cooking water and set aside. Then you can add it, a bit at a time, to the sauce if the pasta seems too dry. The starchy, salty cooking water boosts flavour and helps bind the dish together.
Also, because these are quick-cook sauces, there can be a bit of a timing issue. You don't want to have drained pasta sitting around while you rush to finish the sauce. It's best to remember the golden rule of Italian pasta cooking: The sauce can wait for the noodles, but the noodles can't wait for the sauce.
This easy dish from British chef Jamie Oliver is simple but very good, with big, bold tastes. The tomato "sauce" is formed by blasting cherry tomatoes in the oven.
Pasta with Tomatoes, Olives and Basil
600-700 g (about 2 pints) cherry tomatoes
A few glugs of olive oil
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
A good drizzle of balsamic vinegar
500 g (1 lb) penne
200 g (about 7 oz) Kalamata olives, pitted and halved
A good handful of fresh basil, leaves picked and torn
A piece of pecorino cheese, for grating
Preheat your oven to 205 C (400 F). Throw the tomatoes into a large roasting pan, drizzle with olive oil, add salt and pepper and roast for 20 minutes. Squash tomatoes with a fork (carefully, because some will spurt) to get the juices going, and drizzle with balsamic vinegar.
Bring a large pan of salted water to a boil and cook the pasta following package instructions until al dente. Drain and add the roasted tomatoes with the olives and torn basil leaves. Season and serve with some pecorino grated over the top. Serves 4.
Tester's notes: Very tasty. There is some adorable Oliver-esque vagueness concerning quantities here, but this is a basic recipe that allows for a lot of leeway, depending on your personal taste. If you don't have pecorino on hand, you can substitute Parmesan. (Adapted from jamieoliver.com)
Lime might seem like an unusual flavour for pasta, but it adds a tart freshness to this dish from Australian food writer Donna Hay. You can toss this recipe together in about 20 minutes.
Spaghettini with Lime, Arugula and Capers
500 g (1 lb) spaghettini or vermicelli
30 ml (2 tbsp) extra-virgin olive oil, preferably a fruity variety
15 ml (1 tbsp) shredded lime rind
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 red mild chili pepper, seeded and finely chopped (optional)
30 ml (2 tbsp) capers, rinsed
8 thin slices prosciutto, cut crosswise into 1.3 cm (1/2 in) pieces
140 g (about 5 oz or 4 cups lightly packed) baby arugula
45 ml (3 tbsp) freshly squeezed lime juice (from about 2 limes)
150 g (about 5 oz) soft marinated feta cheese in oil
Freshly ground pepper
Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Salt the water; add pasta and cook until al dente.
Meanwhile, heat oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the lime rind, garlic, chili pepper and capers; cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add prosciutto, and cook until crisp, about 2 minutes. Add drained spaghettini, and toss to coat and heat through.
Toss the arugula and lime juice with the pasta, adding a little pasta water at this point if the pasta seems too dry, and pile into serving bowls. Top with feta cheese and a little of the marinating oil. Sprinkle with pepper, and serve immediately. Serves 4.
Tester's notes: I love this complex combination of hot, salty, smoky and citrus tastes. The sauce can easily be fried up while the pasta is cooking, but I do all the zesting, chopping and cutting before I start cooking the pasta. (Adapted from Donna Hay's Flavours.)
Anchovies are notoriously a love-hate thing, so this dish will be a definite yes or an absolute no. If you like the salty richness of anchovies, then this recipe is handy and economical. Bread crumbs are a staple of what the Italians call la cucina povera, adding crunch and complex flavour. It's worth making homemade bread crumbs for this dish, as the store-bought version will probably be too fine.
Spaghettini with Anchovies and Bread Crumbs
400g (14 oz) spaghettini
60 ml (4 tbsp) olive oil, divided
250 ml (1 cup) homemade bread crumbs, divided (see note)
3 cloves garlic, crushed
1 (45g) can anchovy fillets, chopped
30 ml (2 tbsp) lemon juice
125 ml (1/2 cup) chopped fresh parsley
60 g (1/2 cup) grated Parmesan cheese
In a large pot of salted boiling water, cook pasta. Near the end of the cooking time, reserve about 250 ml (1 cup) cooking water. Meanwhile, in a frying pan over medium heat, heat 15 ml (1 tbsp) olive oil, add 125 ml (1/2 cup) bread crumbs and cook for a minute or two, coating the crumbs with oil and making sure not to burn them. Reserve. In a clean pan over medium, heat remaining olive oil. Add garlic and anchovies and cook, stirring occasionally, for 2-3 minutes. Remove from heat and add lemon juice, parsley and the remaining 125 ml (1/2 cup) bread crumbs. Toss cooked, drained pasta with anchovy mixture, adding cooking water a bit at a time, if necessary, to get the desired consistency. Sprinkle with cheese and reserved bread crumbs and serve immediately. Serves 4.
Note: To make 250 ml (1 cup) homemade bread crumbs, tear about 3 slices baguette or sourdough bread into pieces. Toss lightly with about 10 ml (2 tsp) olive oil, then spread on a baking sheet and bake in a 205 C (400 F) oven for about 15-20 minutes, turning once, until nicely browned. (Watch closely to see the bread doesn't burn.) Whizz in a food processor to a crumb-like texture but don't over-process.
Tester's notes: I really like the earthy tastes of this dish. The bread crumbs add nuttiness and texture, though it takes some tinkering to get a result that is crunchy without being dry. For a saucier version you can pull a Jamie Oliver and maybe increase the lugs of olive oil and add a good slosh of reserved cooking water. Or, if you're brave, you can add another tin of anchovies!