After living in Italy for two and a half years, the insane things they did strangely started to make sense to me: Opening the window in the freezing cold to let some air in; drinking cappuccino only as a morning meal (the milk makes it “too heavy” for after dinner); the mysterious concept of pesante; and that pasta is an art form not to be trifled with. For example, dishes with peas go with penne or tortellini pasta because the peas fall into the holes of the pasta for easier eating. I don’t know that this has ever actually happened, but it somehow makes sense. I was also originally mystified that certain pastas could only be eaten in certain seasons, but now I am a wholehearted believer in pasta law. I live in Texas where it’s hotter than a stolen tamale, so summer pastas should be light and bonus points if they can be served cold. Unlike the rest of my state, to me light means no meat. I can’t explain it, but I just can’t handle much meat in the summer—though feel free to add some if you wish. I’m also not a big fan of foods that require lots of ingredients, prep, or cooking time, so most of these can be done in the time it takes to cook the pasta. Here are three quick and easy vegetarian pastas that are perfect for summer.
1) Pesto pasta with pine nuts and avocado
Green is the name of the game here. Pesto was actually one of the first things that made me realize I was allergic to garlic, which was devastating because pesto is delicious. You can imagine the sheer JOY when I found out they sell garlic-free pesto in Italian supermarkets! It became one of my go-to dinners in Italy, and remains a summer standby after I recreated the recipe back home because it’s easy to whip up a single portion size. Can be served warm or cool, but the pesto probably won’t last more than a day (and avocado will definitely get brown). If you want to use garlic, do that and see if I care, but I’m not going to tell you how.
Ingredients (for one person):
Pasta (I like fusilli)
About 10 basil leaves
A handful of raw pine nuts
About a quarter cup of grated pecorino romano cheese*
Salt & pepper
Half a small avocado, cubed
(*note* this varies from traditional pesto, which uses parmiggiano reggiano. I prefer the sharper, saltier pecorino romano, but do as you wish. Also, please do not buy pre-grated cheese, it tastes like sawdust.)
Bring water to a boil in a pot, throw a shitload of salt in there (like a tablespoon or more), and cook the pasta according to package directions.
Toast the pine nuts in a pan on the stovetop until slightly golden and fragrant (probably about a minute, shake them around halfway through). Take some of the pine nuts and set aside whole. If you have a food processor, lucky you. Throw the basil, remaining pine nuts, and grated cheese in there, then add olive oil to desired consistency, season with salt and pepper.
If you do NOT have a food processor, or are making a small amount of pesto, get your chopping knife and your cutting board.
First chop up all the basil. I stack the leaves on top of each other, chop vertically over and over, then switch to horizontal. Next chop the toasted pine nuts with the basil. Finally, chop in the grated cheese. After everything is finely chopped together, transfer this to a bowl, top with olive oil (start with a tablespoon and adjust to desired consistency), add a little salt and pepper, and mash everything with a fork against the side of the bowl to ensure maximum blending.
When the pasta is done (sample a piece to make sure—should taste a little salty), drain it and then put it in the bowl with the pesto. Add the cubed avocado and the pine nuts to the bowl. Toss everything to coat.
2. Pasta with tomatoes, avocado, and mozzarella
This is REALLY REALLY simple stuff guys, so the key here is to use good ingredients. Inspired by a dish I had in Barcelona, you can also add corn, basil, or skip the pasta and make it a salad.
Ingredients (for one):
Pasta (I used linguine here, but fusilli is also good)
Handful of arugula
5 Cherry tomatoes, halved
Half an avocado, cubed
Mozzarella cheese, cubed*
Good olive oil
Salt & pepper
(*note* Okay, I may be a bit of a cheese snob, but this has to be GOOD cheese. Trader Joe’s has great mozzarella, Whole Foods in-house mozzarella tastes like nothing. I use some local stuff and it is amazing).
Boil some water in a pot and add salt, throw the pasta in after the water boils and cook to package directions. In a bowl (like, the bowl you’re going to eat it in), throw together the tomatoes, cheese, avocado (and basil, if desired). Season with salt and pepper, coat with olive oil, and stir together to marinate for a bit. After the pasta’s done, drain it, throw it into the bowl, add arugula and some more olive oil, and toss everything to coat.
3. Rice noodles with ginger and vegetables
I don’t know why, but the freshness and spiciness of ginger says summer to me—though this could just be because of my love of Shiner Ruby Redbird. For the right fresh rice noodles, you will probably have to go to an Asian supermarket, though I have also used soba noodles to somewhat lesser success. This is a GREAT recipe for a crowd, because it’s easy to make, somewhat exotic, and easily adjustable.
In the interest of brevity, the full directions and ingredients can be found on my neglected and poorly-designed blog (as well as many desserts and other garlic-free dishes), but the TL;DR version is: separate noodles, cook in olive oil and ginger, scramble egg with noodles, stir fry with carrots and broccoli, season with soy sauce and LOTS of pepper.
Enjoy eating your way through summer!
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