Pasta is an easy vegetable-based dish to concoct, especially now, during the fecund summer months when fresh vegetables and herbs are bursting out of every bit of tilled soil in the country, fairly begging to be made into something delicious.
If you think about it, many of the classic pasta sauces of Italy are based on vegetables. Look at the classic marinara sauce–that lovely red sauce that engulfs nearly every Italianesque dish we Americans can think of. It is filled with the goodness of summer–ripe crimson tomatoes, onions, garlic, sometimes peppers, and most certainly fresh herbs like basil and oregano. Made from scratch, marinara tossed with some spaghetti and topped with freshly grated or shredded Parmesan cheese is a perfectly amazing vegetarian meal.
But, let’s go beyond marinara here–and look at the possibilities of making other pasta sauces based on other vegetables, just as they do all over Italy in the summer.
Courgettes, (which is just the French word for wee summer squashes like yellow crookneck and zucchini–and sounds more appealing than “squashes) are all over the markets and gardens of the United States right now and when combined with some fresh tomatoes, caramelized onions, garlic and fresh basil, make a lovely pasta sauce.
When making a sauce for pasta out of courgettes, I always choose very young small ones which have very thin skins, fine, tightly compacted seeds and creamy yet somewhat dry flesh. Larger, older squash tend to have thicker, tougher skins, larger, less easily digestible seeds and their flesh is spongier and filled with more water. When you saute older squash, they release way more water, and the seeds fall away from the flesh and the whole thing can make a soggy mess.
On the other hand, if you saute young courgettes, the flesh and seeds stay together, they release a minimum of water and they will brown nicely on the edges and go velvety tender in the center. The browning brings out the naturally sweet flavor of the little vegetables and their texture makes them soft enough to wrap around with the pasta, but not so soft that they fall apart and are lost in the sauce.
I add the fresh tomatoes near the end of cooking so that they just soften a bit and become somewhat melty without losing their cohesive shapes–since I don’t peel the tomatoes (which is a personal choice–if you want, you can peel yours, but I like the extra texture of the peels in this dish), I very much want the tomatoes to stay separate from the sauce and not just fall apart into it.
Now we come to the chevre–you can not use it if you want to, but I think that melting the creamy goat cheese into the sauce brings the separate vegetables and herbs into a cohesive dish. The creamy richness of the tangy cheese also makes the pasta a little more filling–just as some Parmesan cheese does with marinara sauce. It doesn’t take much chevre to turn this sauce velvety and amazingly creamy–so don’t overdo it. I used only about two to two and a half ounces of the amazing locally made chevre from Integration Acres to make a sauce that clung to each strand of spaghetti and helped the vegetables twirl right up on the fork with the pasta in each bite.
Just two squashes, six small fresh tomatoes, a large onion, some garlic, herbs and a little bit of wine and canned tomato sauce combined with fresh chevre and spaghetti makes a fully satisfying summer vegetarian meal that is filled with all the great flavors of the summer garden. I cooked this for Morganna, Kat and I, but I ended up feeding two extra people with the leftovers–Morganna took them home to her housemates and apparently, they were gobbled up before they even cooled off all the way. No microwave needed!
Spaghetti with Courgettes, Tomatoes and Chevre
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 cups thinly sliced white or yellow onions
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon Aleppo pepper flakes or black pepper to taste
1 small zucchini, sliced longitudinally, then cut into thin slices on the bias (into little half-moon shapes or near-crescents)
1 small yellow crookneck squash, cut the same as the zucchini
2 tablespoons finely minced fresh peeled garlic
1/4 cup dry red wine
6 small tomatoes, cored and cut into 6-8 wedges each
1/3-1/2 cup canned tomato sauce
2-2 1/2 ounces fresh chevre
salt to taste
1/4 cup minced fresh basil or a mixture of fresh herbs like basil, oregano, flat leaf parsley, and marjoram
3/4 of an 16 ounce box of spaghetti, cooked and drained
Heat the olive oil in a heavy-bottomed skillet and add the onions. Sprinkle with the salt and cook, stirring, until they turn a deep golden color.
Add the Aleppo pepper flakes or freshly ground black pepper, and the courgette slices. Sprinkle the squashes with the garlic. Cook, stirring, until the onions turn brown and the courgettes release their juices and brown on the edges, with the flesh turning golden.
Deglaze the pan wit the wine, and cook, stirring until the alcohol boils off and just a bit of reddish purple juice is left. Stir in the tomatoes and the tomato sauce, and cook, stirring, until the tomato skins wrinkle and their flesh softens and the liquid in the pan thickens slightly.
Turn off the heat under the pan. Break up the chevre into chunks and stir into the sauce, and keep stirring until it melts into the sauce. Taste for salt and correct seasoning, then sprinkle in the herbs.
Stir and toss the spaghetti into the sauce, and twirl into warmed pasta bowls. Sprinkle with a bit of extra minced herbs and Aleppo pepper or freshly ground black pepper to garnish.
(serves about four adults and one toddler)
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