Summer Pasta


Life without pasta – can you imagine…well I can though I would no longer want to contemplate a scenario where the ‘go to’ pantry ingredient was unavailable. You may not remember when you first tasted pasta – it’s always been in your life but I certainly do – it was in the late 1960’s, soon after I had started in Ballymaloe House kitchen…’Children’s Tea’ was served every evening at 5.30pm – essentially supper. Myrtle loved to cook delicious food that the children loved to eat so the over-picky eaters didn’t miss the junk.
On this occasion, word came from the dining room that one child would only eat spaghetti tossed in butter with a sprinkling of grated Cheddar. What was spaghetti? It certainly wasn’t available in our local village shop at that time so someone was dispatched to Midleton to find a few packets.  I was intrigued… Subsequently spaghetti became a favourite item on the ‘Children’s Tea’ menu.. That child who ate nothing but pasta for the entire stay is now a hugely successful international business man with a penchant for gourmet foods…

Actually, now that I think about it, we may have had macaroni in our village shop in Cullohill in Co. Laois earlier but spaghetti was a new discovery for me.

I keep wondering just how many pasta shapes there are, certainly hundreds, it’s difficult to do an exact count because some have different names in different regions and dialects. Pasta manufacturers and cooks occasionally come up with new shapes or new names for old shapes – the possibilities are endless, depending on who you ask. In food historian Zanin De Vita’s encyclopaedia of pasta, she encountered 1,300 names for pasta which of course takes in both historical and dialect names.

It’s the quintessential ‘handy’ ingredient so today I’ve chosen five of my favourite deliciously fast (dried) pasta dishes for spontaneous Summer meals…
Remember, alphabet pasta – Alfabeto and then there’s are also Stelline (little stars), quadrucci (little squares), puntini (little dotes). Delicious served in a chicken or vegetable broth, maybe add some peas and sprinkle with a dusting of Parmesan and not just for children.
Love the way pasta can be as simple as that or a luxurious main course for a special dinner party.
Try this with lobster, cream and fresh herbs. Could be prawns or scallops either. Also love to just add some delicious fresh vegetables, peas, beans, courgettes, seaweed or wild greens depending on the season or what you can forage from your local Farmers Market. Fettuccini A’lfredo – rich and gorgeous lends itself to seasonal additions but a fruity extra virgin olive oil enhances all pasta dishes.
All pasta starts off fresh whether it’s handmade at home or extruded from a machine in a factory which is then destined to be dried so it last indefinitely ready for us to use at a moments notice.
In this article, I’m concentrating on the latter…

Cheat’s Method of Cooking Dried Pasta

I developed this method of cooking pasta when we taught a ‘Survival’ course for students in bedsits or small apartments with limited cooking facilities.  Italians are usually shocked, but it works brilliantly.

Choose a large deep saucepan; two handles are an advantage for ease of lifting.  To cook 500g (18oz) pasta, use 2 tablespoons of dairy salt or sea salt to 4.5 litres of water.  Bring the water to the boil before adding the salt and the pasta.  Tip the pasta in all at once, stir well to ensure the strands are separate, then cover the pan just long enough to bring the water back to the boil.

Cook for 2 minutes for noodles, spaghetti and tagliatelli, or 4 minutes for penne, small shells etc.  Keep the pan covered.  Then turn off the heat and allow the pasta to continue to cook for the time indicated on the packet.  Test, drain and proceed as usual.

Pasta made by this method is good and does not overcook as easily as pasta made by the conventional method.

Courgetti Carbonara

This is a delicious Summery version from Thomasina Miers. If you can find both yellow and green courgettes, they’ll add a stunning, two-tone colour to an otherwise pale dish.

Serves 4

4 medium courgettes

salt and freshly ground black pepper 

200g (7oz) spaghetti 

3 medium organic, free-range eggs

75g (3oz) grated Parmesan or Pecorino (or a mix) plus extra to serve

100g (3 1/2oz) smoked pancetta cubes 

3 small garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped 

1 handful roughly chopped flat-leaf parsley, to serve 

Prepare the courgettes, use a julienne peeled or a sharp knife to peel them into long, fine strips, stopping when the core becomes seedy – you want about 500g (18oz) in total – then set aside and discard the cores.

Bring a pan of salted water to a boil and cook the spaghetti according to the packet instructions.

Meanwhile, beat the eggs in bowl, season well and stir in the cheese. 

Put a large, wide frying pan over a medium heat and stir-fry the pancetta for five minutes, by which time it will have begun to release its fat.  Add the garlic, continue to cook for another few minutes, until the pancetta and garlic are golden, then remove from the heat.

Once the spaghetti is al dente, return the pancetta to the heat and use tongs or forks to transfer the spaghetti to the pancetta pan, reserving the pasta cooking water.

Add the courgettes to the pan with a big splash of cooking water and stir well for a few minutes, so everything is coated in the garlicky oil.  Remove from the heat and stir in the egg mix until you have a lovely, glossy sauce, adding enough cooking water, a few tablespoons at a time, to get it to a creamy consistency.

Transfer to hot plates, sprinkle with a little extra cheese and the parsley and serve immediately.

Penne or Orecchiette with Tomatoes, Spicy Sausage and Cream

Serves 6

450g (1lb) penne or orecchiette

4.5 litres (8 pints) water

2 tablespoons salt

175-225g (6-8oz) Chorizo or Kabanossi sausage                         

25g (1oz) butter

1 teaspoon fresh rosemary, finely chopped

675g (scant 1 1/2lb) fresh ripe tomatoes, peeled, and cut into 1cm (1/2 inch) dice or 1 1/2 tins (400g/14oz tin) tomatoes, chopped

salt, freshly ground pepper and sugar

pinch of chilli flakes

175-300ml (6-10fl oz) cream

2 tablespoons flat parsley, finely chopped

4 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan cheese (Parmigiano Reggiano)

lots of snipped flat parsley

Bring 4.5 litres (8 pints) of water to the boil in a large saucepan over a high heat. Add 2 tablespoons of salt, then add the pasta. Stir well. Bring back to the boil for 4 minutes, cover, turn off the heat and allow the pasta to continue to cook in the covered saucepan until al dente – 9-12 minutes depending on the brand of pasta.

Melt the butter in a large sauté pan, add the chopped rosemary and diced tomatoes. Season with salt, freshly ground pepper and sugar.   Cook until the tomatoes have just begun to soften into a sauce, about 5 minutes approx.  

Peel the casing off the Chorizo or Kabanossi sausage if necessary, then half or quarter each stick depending on size.  Slice into rounds or at an angle as desired.  Add to the pan with the chilli flakes, season lightly with salt (be careful not to overdo the salt as the sausage may be somewhat salty).    Add the cream and chopped parsley, cook, stirring frequently until the cream comes to the boil.  Simmer for 5-7 minutes.   Remove the pan from the heat and set aside.

When the pasta is cooked (it should be ‘al dente’), drain and toss with the sauce, add the grated Parmesan. Toss again, check the seasoning.  Sprinkle with flat parsley and serve at once.  

Note: Please omit chorizo for vegetarian option.

Summery Fettuccine all’Alfredo

There actually was an Alfredo, in whose Roman restaurant this lovely dish became famous.  In Italy home-made – better still, hand-made pasta is essential, cooked very aldente and good-quality fresh double cream but one could use dried pasta (340g-450g/¾ – 1lb) in an emergency. This original recipe came from the late Marcella Hazan its rich and gorgeous on its own and can be the base for numerous seasonal additions.

Serves 5-6

Pasta Dough

300g (10oz/2 1/2 cups) “00” flour

25g (1oz) semolina flour

pinch of salt

1 large egg and 3-4 large egg yolks, preferably free range

1 teaspoon olive oil

1 teaspoon cold water

225ml (8fl oz/1 cup) double cream

45g (1 3/4oz/1/3 stick) butter


65g (2 1/2oz) freshly grated Parmesan cheese

freshly ground pepper (4-6 twists of the mill)

a very tiny grating of nutmeg

First make the pasta.

Sieve the flour into a bowl and add the salt. Make a well in the centre, add the eggs (no need to whisk the eggs), oil and water. Mix into a dough with your hand. The pasta should just come together but shouldn’t stick to your hand – if it does add a little more flour.  (If it is too dry, add a little extra egg white being careful not to add too much.)  Knead for 10 minutes until it becomes elastic. It should be quiet pliable, wrap in clingfilm and rest in fridge for 20 minutes.

Divide the dough in half and roll out one piece at a time into a very thin sheet, keeping the other piece covered. You ought to be able to read the print on a matchbox through the pasta.  A pasta machine or long thin rolling pin is a great advantage but you can manage perfectly well with an ordinary domestic rolling pin. 

Cut into strips, 1/8 inch (3mm) wide.

Choose an enamelled cast-iron pan, or other flameproof dish that can later hold all the cooked fettuccine comfortably.  Put in 150ml (5fl oz/1/2 cup) of the cream and all the butter and simmer over medium heat for less than a minute, until the butter and cream have thickened.  Turn off the heat.

Bring 8 pints (4.8 litres/20 cups) of water to the boil.  Add 1 tablespoon (1 American tablespoon + 1 teaspoon) of salt, then drop in the fettuccine and cover the pot until the water returns to the boil.  If the fettuccine are fresh, they will be done a few seconds after the water returns to the boil.  If dry, they will take a little longer.  (Cook the fettuccine even firmer than usual, because they will be cooked more in the pan.)  Drain immediately and thoroughly when done, and transfer to the pan containing the butter and cream.

Turn on the heat under the pan to low, and toss the fettuccine, coating them with sauce.  Add the rest of the cream, all the grated cheese, salt, pepper and nutmeg.  Toss briefly until the cream has thickened and the fettuccine are well coated.  Check seasoning.  Serve immediately from the pan, with an extra bowl of grated cheese.


Fettucine with Courgettes and Zucchini Blossoms

Follow the master recipe, adding 450g (1lb) of sautéed courgettes with the hot drained fettuccine. Garnish with torn zucchini blossoms.

Fettucine with Broad Beans

Follow the master recipe, adding 450g (1lb) of lightly cooked and shelled broad beans or 225g (8oz) freshly cooked peas with the hot drained fettucine.

Fettucine with Red Pepper and Rocket

Follow the master recipe, adding some strips of roasted red pepper and a few rocket leaves with the hot drained fettucine.

Fettuccine with Smoked Salmon and Parsley

Follow the master recipe, adding 50-110g (2-4oz) smoked salmon, cut into cubes, and 2 tablespoons (2 1/2 American tablespoons) approximately of chopped fresh parsley. Omit the Parmesan cheese. Serve immediately.

Fettucine with Roasted Pumpkin and Rocket Leaves

Follow the master recipe, adding 225g (8oz) of roasted pumpkin, 16 – 24 rocket leaves (depending on size) and a few toasted pine kernels with the hot drained fettucine.

Creamy Bucatini with Spring Onions, Mint and Pistachios

Bucatini is the name of chunky spaghetti but ordinary spaghetti would also be fine.

Serves 6

450g (1lb) bucatini or spaghetti
50g (2oz) butter
450g (1lb) spring onions, both white and green parts, thinly sliced
300ml (10fl oz) cream
1 tablespoon rosemary, chopped
1/4 – 1/2 teaspoon chilli flakes
freshly ground black pepper
100g (3 1/2oz) grated Pecorino
1 teaspoon finely grated organic lemon zest
2 tablespoons chives, finely chopped
4 tablespoons mint, finely chopped
40-50g (1 1/2 – 2oz) pistachios, coarsely chopped
1 organic lemon

Bring 8 pints (4.5L/10 American cups) of water to a fast rolling boil. Add a generous tablespoon of salt

Cook the pasta in a large pot of well salted (add 2 generous tablespoons of salt per 4.5L (8 pints) of water) boiling water over a high heat until al-dente.

Reserve 225ml (8fl oz) of the cooking water. Drain the pasta well.

Meanwhile, melt the butter over a medium heat, add the sliced spring onions and cook stirring occasionally for 6-7 minutes, or until fully cooked and beginning to brown at the edges.

Add the cream, chopped rosemary, pepper flakes, salt and freshly ground black pepper. Allow to bubble for 3-4 minutes. Reduce the heat and stir in the grated Pecorino. Add the pasta and about 110ml (4fl oz) of the reserved cooking liquid, bring back to the boil adding a little more pasta water if necessary.

Sprinkle in the chives and lemon zest. Taste and tweak the seasoning if necessary.

Turn into hot pasta bowl, sprinkle with freshly chopped mint and coarsely chopped pistachio nuts. Grate a little Pecorino and a little more lemon zest over the top and serve immediately.

About the author

Darina Allen
By Darina Allen


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