I was running later than usual and told David I wanted to eat a simple pasta for dinner. I was thinking we might do a simple fresh tomato pasta of the kind that is best eaten during late summer when the tomatoes are perfect for barely cooking. Little did I know that he was going in an entirely different direction! Being extremely talented and knowledgable about seasonal cooking he came up with this pasta. Summer squash is really mild but has a great flavor if you just cook it with a few other ingredients to make it stand out. Caramelized onions are the base you build the rest of pasta on top of.
The best part about pasta like this is that it comes together in very short order, as long as you have the various ingredients prepped before you need to actually start cooking. Low stress prep and then short cook time has become a favorite of mine for both Italian and Chinese food. Before I go any further I should mention that the green beans on the same plate are blanched and combined with a garlic-fresh tomato-anchovy sauce. Recipe coming later (I promise!).
As any person who has heard of Scott Conant will tell you, pasta needs to be “loved.” And by love I mean stirring it frequently while it cooks. Ever had pasta stick to itself in the pan? Contrary to popular belief a dash of oil won’t really help the pasta stay apart. What WILL help is frequently stirring it, especially at the beginning.
Ok, now picking your pasta has become a minefield of political choices. After the choice words made about gay people by Barilla (since retracted by a forceful media campaign) we moved away from buying their pasta. Barilla is a decent entry brand but there are other brands and I’ve been using De Cecco because it tastes better and doesn’t come with recent political awkwardness. Anyway! Experiment with pasta brands to find out what you like. De Cecco, like any good pasta brand, is honest about how long it takes for the pasta to come to al dente. No guess work involved.
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 tbsp butter
1 yellow summer squash, cut in half and each half sliced into thin half moons
1 small white or yellow onion, sliced thinly
salt and pepper to taste
2-3 sprigs of thyme
zest and juice of 1 lemon
4 oz goat cheese (or more!)
half pound of dried pasta (choose a shape similar to the half moons of squash)
6-8 basil leaves, sliced thinly for garnish
Heat olive oil and butter in a pan and add the onion. Add some salt to help bring out the juices in the onion. Cook the onion until it gets translucent and just starts to change color. Add the squash and the thyme and cook until the centers of the squash begin to change color and get a bit soft. Continue cooking it on somewhat lower heat.
Add a generous handful or two of salt to a boiling pot of water and immediately dump your pasta into the pot, stirring somewhat frequently. (It won’t be as bad as long noodles which really tend to stick together).
Two minutes before the package directions say the pasta will be al dente start tasting it just to be sure. It should have some bite but not feel completely raw and hard on the inside. Once the pasta is ready, quickly take a coffee cup sized scoop of the water the pasta is cooking in and set it aside. Drain the pasta through a strainer and add it to the pan with the onions and squash.
Squeeze the lemon juice over the pasta and add the goat cheese and lemon zest. Grind some pepper over the pasta to taste. Stir it all together and after most of the cheese is melted add some of the reserved pasta water to finish the sauce. Put the pasta into a serving dish and top with the sliced up basil.