Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Aarti Cooks: Non Partisan Pasta

A good vegetable pasta dish is hard to find and so I don't blame you if you don't find yourself excited by this week's recipe. I have had so many versions, where the pasta is covered in a goopy cream sauce, combined with both undercooked and overcooked vegetables. If the goopy sauce has been omitted, then I'm met with a bowl of stodgy, tasteless pasta, to which I add a ton of Parmesan and pepper in order to make palatable. You know that I'm talking about people!

I present to you Non-partisan pasta, so named because it came together whilst watching last night's historic (although slightly anti-climactic, right? I mean, it was over by 8p our time!) election, and realised that not one ingredient in my pasta was either red or blue. Even the autumn tomatoes I used fell into line, revealing a muted purple flesh once sliced open.

This isn't technically my recipe... it's an adaption of one I received in my mailbox from Splendid Table. Have you heard of that public radio show? It plays on Sunday afternoons here in LA, the perfect accompaniment to the long, elaborate cooking that goes hand in hand with Sundays: roasts, stews, pies and soups. The show, hosted by the inexorably perky Lynne Rosetto Kasper covers everything from road food (with the cutest couple in food, the Sterns) to wine, but my favorite segment is the call-in hour, when Lynne answers random caller questions about how to cook blahblahblah. The other great thing about this show is the free "weeknight kitchen" recipe I receive every week -- it's really worth signing up for if you haven't already. She sends out some great, easy ideas for a week day meal.

This was one of them: Sally's Summer Zucchini pasta with fried zucchini flowers; I made it this summer and it was surprisingly delicious, much yummier than this stuck-in-her-ways carnivore expected.

The great thing about this recipe is that it's so easy to riff on. With autumn only *just* arriving this week in LA, there's still a good deal of summery produce at the farmers market, so I decided to whip this up with corn, teeny tiny yellow patty pan squash, purple cherry tomatoes, a green zebra tomato that I couldn't resist (but wished I had because it didn't taste all that great) and basil. As long as you have pasta, cheese, basil, garlic and some veggies, this recipe is going to work. It's easy and perfect for a midweek meal, especially if you have a ton of veggies left over from your overly-generous farmers market day.

Oh, and in these recessionary days, this is a CHEAP meal. Give it a go!

Non-partisan Pasta: Pasta with squash, corn, tomatoes, basil and feta
(Adaptation of Sally Swift's Summer Zucchini Pasta)

You'll need this stuff:

Good olive oil
2 ears corn
4 cloves garlic, minced
Couple handfuls of baby patty pan squash (or 1 big zucchini)
1lb pasta (I used pappardelle here, but I previously used penne to much better results)
2 big handfuls grape or cherry tomatoes, halved or 2 cups regular tomatoes, roughly chopped
1 cup feta cheese, crumbled
1/3 cup tight packed fresh basil, roughly chopped

1) Bring a big pot of water to the boil, (the original recipe said 5 quarts). Once it comes to a boil, salt it.

2) Meanwhile, place a big skillet over medium heat, swirling a generous couple of tablespoons of good olive oil over it. If you're feeling frisky (as I was feeling last night), you add a pat of butter too. Drop your minced garlic in there (it should gently sizzle), and keep an eye on it so that it doesn't burn!

3) Slice the kernels off the ears of corn. Once the garlic has started giving off her aroma, throw the kernels in, coating them in the now garlicky olive oil. Mmmmmmm.

4) Your water might be approaching a boil now. If so, slice your baby patty pan squash in half. If you're using a zucchini, trim the ends off and cut into matchsticks about the size of penne.

5) Gently drop the squash into the boiling salted water, and cook for a couple of minutes until fork tender. Don't drain! Use a slotted spoon or a spider to fish the beauties out of there.

6) Drop the squash into your corn/garlic mixture and toss over medium-low heat. Meanwhile, bring the water back to the boil. Drop the pasta in once it's boiling and cook according to the instructions to al dente.

7) Once pasta is cooked, pull out about a cup of pasta water and set aside. Either drain the pasta, or use tongs to drop it directly into your skillet and toss.

8) Add the grape tomatoes and the feta cheese and about half of the water you kept aside. Add as much as you need to make a sauce that lightly coats the pasta. Keep the heat low. Add the basil at the last second so that it doesn't go black. Taste and season accordingly.

9) I like to let it sit for about 5 minutes for the flavours to mingle. Serve and enjoy some nonpartisan goodness for once in your life. :)



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