Cool it with delicious summertime pastas

Summer pasta with red tomatoes, orange cherry tomatoes, orange bell peppers, mozzarella balls, chives and capers. BY JACK CLEMONS
July 19, 2011

With temperatures in the 90s this week, I’ve turned to my favorite cool-down dishes. Despite wonderful health benefits, oatmeal doesn’t appeal on mornings when you break into a sweat collecting the newspaper. These days we’re having chilled cantaloupe chunks with creamy cottage cheese, yogurt swirled with blackberries or a simple bowl of cereal sprinkled with cold peach slices.

Lunchtime has been chock-full of tossed greens topped with slices of leftover grilled chicken, shrimp or steak. We’ve filled flavorful sandwich wraps (sun-dried tomato or high-fiber rye) with tomato slices, baby spinach leaves and peppered goat cheese. Stuffing a small pita round with hummus, kalamata olives and a handful of arugula is satisfying and simple.

As the day winds down and we start the “What’s for dinner?” conversation, the prospect of another grilled meal doesn’t always thrill. Earlier in the week, I found myself craving pasta. Not a heavy dish of meatballs and red sauce, but cold pasta tossed with the flavors of summer, like the colorful bowl in the photo.

To make that dish, I chopped Roma tomato, orange bell pepper and yellow cherry tomato while the pasta cooked. Sliced green onion softened in a skillet over a low heat with the peppers; the tomatoes joined them for the final few moments. After the pasta drained and received a drizzle of olive oil, it was tossed with the vegetables and small balls of mozzarella cheese. Snipped chives and capers added touches of green and bright flavor notes.

The key difference between this dish and traditional pasta (typically served with sauce ladled on top) is a slightly wetter sauce that is mixed into the pasta along with the other ingredients. There are endless variations: which type of pasta; vegetable choices; what kind of cheese (or none at all).

Since mozzarella won’t completely melt – it just softens a bit from the heat of the noodles – I chose small bocconcini rounds. For a creamier texture you can select ricotta or chèvre (goat cheese). The green onions would be too sharp without a brief sauté, and the bell peppers stayed crisp but not chewy after a short time in the same skillet. Tomato flavors will deepen if you give them just a few moments over heat, time enough to concentrate their rich taste without cooking them into mush.

Although the pasta rule of thumb is to combine creamy sauces with long strands of pasta and mix tubes or shapes with chunky sauces, this recipe didn’t follow that rule and still worked. The same may not be true of the BLT pasta salad; shells or elbows can replace the bow ties, but long spaghetti threads might not be a good choice. I’ve included a recipe for an Asian-style noodle with peanut sauce; you can readily substitute wheat pasta for the rice noodles, just keep the strands long to carry the silky sauce. The cucumber shrimp salad is crisp and light (tasty even without the shrimp).

All of these summer pastas can be eaten as soon as they’re cooked, or you can give them a chance to chill in the refrigerator before serving – while you put up your feet and enjoy your favorite adult beverage.

Summer Pasta Salad
8 oz pasta
1 T olive oil
1 t butter
3 sliced green onions
1 chopped yellow bell pepper
1 minced garlic clove
1/2 pt cherry tomatoes, halved
2 chopped Roma tomatoes
1 T snipped chives
1 T capers (optional)
salt & pepper, to taste
8 oz bocconcini (small mozzarella rounds)

Cook the pasta according to the package directions. Drain and toss with olive oil in a serving bowl; set aside. While the pasta is cooking, melt the butter in a skillet over medium-low heat; add the green onion and cook until wilted. Add the bell pepper and cook until slightly softened. Add the garlic and continue cooking for a minute. Stir in tomatoes, cover and remove from heat. When the pasta is ready, stir tomato mixture into pasta along with remaining ingredients. Serve immediately or allow to cool. Yield: 4 servings.

Peanut Noodle Salad
3 T peanut butter
1 T sesame oil
2 T soy sauce
1/4 C chicken stock
2 minced garlic cloves
1/3 C diced red bell pepper
2 t grated ginger
2 t rice vinegar
1 t honey
1/8 t cayenne
1 lb rice noodles
1/4 C sliced green onions

Combine peanut butter, sesame oil, soy sauce and chicken stock in serving bowl; whisk together until smooth. Stir in garlic, bell pepper, ginger, vinegar, honey and cayenne; set aside. Cook noodles according to package instructions and drain in colander. Rinse with cold water until noodles are cool; drain well and add to serving bowl with sauce. Toss to thoroughly coat noodles. To serve, garnish with green onion.

BLT Salad
8 oz bow-tie pasta
1/2 lb thick bacon
1 pt cherry tomatoes
6 green onions
1 C packed arugula
1/3 C olive oil
1 t Dijon mustard
2 t lemon juice
3 T red wine vinegar
salt & pepper, to taste

Cook the pasta according to the package directions; drain and set aside. While pasta is cooking, fry the bacon until very crisp; crumble and set aside. Halve the tomatoes, slice the green onions and tear the arugula into bite-sized pieces. Place the vegetables in a serving bowl and add the cooked pasta; toss to combine. In a small bowl, whisk together the remaining ingredients and pour over the pasta mixture. Add the bacon and toss to coat the pasta with dressing. Yield: 4 servings

Soba Noodle Shrimp Salad
8 oz soba (buckwheat) noodles
1 T sesame oil
1 T canola oil
3 cucumbers
1 T minced ginger
2 t kosher salt
juice of 1 lemon
2 t soy sauce
8 oz cooked shrimp
1 T chopped cilantro
1/4 C chopped almonds

Cook the noodles according to the package directions, taking care not to let them get mushy. Rinse with cold water, drain and toss with the oils in a serving bowl. While the noodles are cooking, peel, seed and grate the cucumbers. Place them in a colander with the ginger; sprinkle with salt and mix thoroughly. Allow to sit for about 15 minutes; rinse and drain. Add cucumber mixture to noodles along with soy sauce and lemon juice; toss to combine. To serve, plate 4 servings of noodles, top each with a portion of shrimp and garnish with cilantro and almonds.

Missing recipe from last week
Thank you to the readers who pointed out the missing recipe in last week’s column.

Bellini Cocktail
white peaches

Pit, peel and chop the peaches. Puree peaches in a blender or food processor until smooth. Pour peach puree into a champagne flute to fill about one-fourth of the glass. Pour Prosecco over the puree until the glass is almost full, pausing to allow the froth to subside. If desired, garnish with a peach slice.