Friday, October 9, 2009

Still time for summer pasta

By Helen Klein

There’s a sense of community among the vegetables of late summer.Tomatoes, peppers and eggplant are all members of the nightshade family, and they blend together harmoniously, along with zucchini, onion and garlic, in a wide range of dishes.

Their combined flavors evoke Italy and the south of France -- tasting eternally fresh yet with roots dating far back into the culinary and cultural history of the region.

While tomatoes, squash, peppers and eggplant make a wonderful side dish on their own -- to sit down to such a meal is almost like basking in the Mediterranean sunshine, even if you’re in Brooklyn -- not surprisingly, a quick stew of summer vegetables also makes a flavorful and nutritious sauce for pasta.

It’s also quick and versatile, which means you can spend an afternoon in Prospect Park or Coney Island, or a day at the office, and whip together an evocation of la bella Italia in a half an hour or so.Don’t forget the fresh basil. Those brilliant green leaves can take a sauce from flavorful to fabulous in no time at all.

It may not take you all the way to Venice, but it sure isn’t a bad way at all to end a day in New York City!

Summer Pasta

1 small eggplant
2 Tbl. olive oil
1 medium onion
1 colored pepper, seeded and cored
1 small zucchini
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 28-oz. can plum tomatoes, chunked, with juices retained
¼ cup chopped fresh basil
½ lb. tubular pasta such as penne
Salt and pepper to taste
Freshly grated parmesan cheese, to taste, for serving

Cut eggplant into chunks. Put in a bowl and add salt. Let the eggplant sit, for at least 10 minutes, before rinsing and adding to sautéing vegetables.

Heat oil in a large sauté pan. When hot, add onion and sauté, stirring occasionally, till translucent and golden in color. Add pepper, and sauté till crisp tender. Add zucchini, and sauté till it has just begun to lose its raw crunch. Add eggplant and garlic, and sauté till golden and translucent.

Add tomatoes and their juices to pan, add salt and pepper to taste, and reduce heat to low, cooking about 20 minutes, till tomatoes have dissolved into a sauce.While sauce is cooking, boil water for pasta. Add a teaspoon of salt and a splash of olive oil to the water prior to adding pasta. When water is at a rolling boil, add pasta and stir to prevent pieces from sticking together. Boil till al dente, testing frequently after seven minutes of cooking, to make sure pasta is cooked through, literally “to the tooth,” but not mushy.

When pasta is done, drain, toss to remove as much water as possible, and add to sauce.Toss thoroughly, and add basil to garnish. Toss again.

Pass freshly grated parmesan cheese (I usually pass the chunk of cheese and a grater) for diners to add as much or as little as they like.

Serves four as a side dish or light main dish, with a salad on the side.


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