When the weather is hot, my enthusiasm for complicated cooking fades. I stay away from dishes that take a long time to prepare or require slow braises in the oven.
I turn instead to recipes for uncooked pasta sauces where the only cooking involved is boiling the pasta water. The kitchen stays cool and so do you.
If you have some good dried pasta and a piece of grating cheese on hand, you can turn these humble ingredients into a feast. Simply add a decent grinding of black pepper, a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and a shower of grated pecorino-Romano to cooked pasta, and you have dinner.
On summer days I halve cherry tomatoes (see YouTube for a neat way to slice these), add a coarsely chopped bunch of basil, a few garlic cloves (grated on a Microplane), and mix it all together with extra virgin olive oil. When the pasta is al dente, I drain it, toss it with the tomato mixture and add crumbled goat cheese. The hot pasta melts the cheese into a creamy sauce, and the basil and garlic add a pleasant zest. Sometimes, instead of goat cheese, I use cubes of mozzarella, which become warm and stringy when hit with the hot pasta.
One of my favorite recipes is a little more complicated. Basil is plentiful this time of the year and makes wonderful pesto. I make it according to the ingredients I have on hand. So adjust the ingredients to your taste or pantry.
Grate z cup Parmigiana-Reggiano cheese in the bowl of food processor; add x cup nuts of your choice (pine nuts or walnuts) and pulse to grate. Remove from food processor and set aside. Combine 2 cups basil leaves (or parsley or cilantro) with nuts and pulse a few times. Add 2 cloves peeled garlic and cheese and pulse a few times more. Slowly add z cup extra virgin olive oil in a constant stream while the food processor is on. Add a pinch of salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste.
Most uncooked sauces should be at room temperature prior to blending with hot pasta. Look for pasta made with durum wheat (semolina) flour imported from Italy because it doesn’t get mushy when it is cooked.
Use long pastas (spaghetti, fettuccine, etc.) with sauces that have a creamy texture (the sauce will stick to the noodle). Use short pastas such as penne, farfalle and orecchiette with sauces that are chunky (the bits of sauce will cling to the nooks and crannies).
Pasta with Pecorino-Romano and Black Pepper
4 heaping tablespoons black peppercorns
10 rounded tablespoons freshly grated young pecorino Romano
1 pound pasta (spaghetti, bucatini, fusilli or rigatoni)
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil (optional)
Bring 5 quarts of water to a boil in a large pot over high heat. While the water is heating, fold the peppercorns into a sheet of waxed paper or an old cloth napkin and whack them repeatedly with a blunt instrument, such as a meat tenderizer or the bottom edge of a pan, until coarsely cracked. Mix the cheese and pepper in a small bowl. Add 3 tablespoons kosher salt to the boiling water, then add the pasta and cook, stirring occasionally, until al dente. When pasta is almost done, add a large spoonful of its water to a serving bowl to warm. Transfer drained pasta to the bowl; reserve the cooking water. Add olive oil to the pasta and toss. Sprinkle on the cheese and pepper and toss vigorously. The sauce will form right on the pasta as the residual water mixes with the cheese. Add some of the reserved cooking water to spread things around if need be. Serve immediately on warmed dishes.
Marco Felluga’s Refosco dal Peduncolo Rosso 2011 ($20) from Fruili, Italy, has a robust fruitiness that echoes the flavors in the cheese and stands up to the black pepper.
Per serving: 469 calories (10 percent from fat), 5 g fat (2.4 g saturated, 1.1 g monounsaturated), 13 mg cholesterol, 18.7 g protein, 85 g carbohydrate, 3.6 g fiber, 186 mg sodium.
Source: Adapted from “Sauces & Shapes: Pasta the Italian Way” by Oretta Zanini de Vita and Maureen B. Fant (W.W. Norton, $35).