Two summers ago, we had pasta everyday as our family travelled on vacation through Italy. Sometimes twice a day. It stayed right around 100 degrees each day, yet a plate of steaming hot pasta somehow always hit the spot. Wherever we went, sauces were simple, yet bursting with tantalizing flavor. We never came close to tiring of it. In fact, even after we landed back home, all we wanted for days on end was more pasta.
The late summer colors at the Ann Arbor Farmer’s Market are reminiscent of the sunshine and abundance we saw in Tuscany. The fresh tomatoes seem to beg for a higher calling, and inspire exquisite homemade sauces with endless variations, including this light version of Pasta al Pomodoro with summer vegetables. Fresh and alive with flavor, this sauce is so unlike the heavy sauces of colder seasons that cook for hours at a time.
Along with farm fresh tomatoes and basil, the onions, bell peppers and zucchini are in great supply this month at the Ann Arbor Farmers Market. With just a few simple ingredients, a lovely summer pasta sauce can be yours in minutes. In fact, in practically the same amount of time it takes to cook pasta, homemade sauce will be calling your name.
The intoxicating fragrance of fresh basil starts the party while you prep the veggies. Your blender or food processor makes quick work of turning fresh tomatoes into puree. If you are looking for close to perfect timing, give yourself a head start by sautéing the onion next. While the onion is sautéing, chop the other vegetables, and process the tomatoes. Next, bring a large pot of salted water to boil for pasta. I used whole wheat spaghetti, but any pasta you like would work equally well.
The timing for the sauce from this point forward, will match the time it takes to bring the water to boil and cook the pasta. Of course, the speed with which your water boils and pasta cooks may vary from mine, depending on the size of your pot, amount of water, type of pasta, etc. But this will give you a pretty good idea of how quickly this comes together.
Next, add garlic to the onion, followed by the chopped peppers, zucchini, and summer squash. Add a splash of red wine, and a pinch of crushed red pepper flakes for heat. Along with fresh tomatoes, which are light and sweet, add a small can of tomato paste for dimension. Suddenly your Pasta al Pomodoro is well on its way.
As the pasta cooks, continue to simmer the sauce until slightly thickened. Once thickened, I used an immersion blender to create a rich, almost completely smooth texture, but stopped just short to retain bright specks of colorful vegetables. You may want an ultra-smooth velvety texture. Either way, you can certainly use a standard blender or food processor instead, but the immersion blender saves a step, because it can be used without transferring the sauce to another container. Season with salt and ground black pepper, finish with a generous handful of chopped fresh basil, and serve over hot pasta.
Pour the wine, grab a loaf of fresh crusty bread, and buon appetito!
PASTA AL POMODORO WITH SUMMER VEGETABLES
Yield: 6 cups of pasta sauce
2 tablespoons water or vegetable broth (more if needed)
1 medium onion, diced
1/2 teaspoon minced fresh garlic
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (reduce for less heat)
1 red bell pepper, diced
1 small zucchini, diced
1 small yellow summer squash, diced
2 pounds of fresh tomatoes, pureed in blender
1 small can tomato paste (6 oz.)
3 tablespoons red wine
2 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
3/4 teaspoon black pepper
Garnish: fresh basil, roughly chopped
Heat broth in large soup pot; add onion with water or broth and steam-sauté for about five minutes or until almost golden. Add a little more water if needed to avoid sticking to the pan. Add fresh garlic and crushed red pepper. Sauté for one minute more.
Add bell pepper, zucchini, and summer squash. Continue cooking, stirring occasionally, for three or four minutes, or until all vegetables are just tender. Add tomato puree, tomato paste, and red wine. Bring mixture to a boil, stirring thoroughly. Immediately reduce to simmer, and continue to simmer uncovered, until sauce is slightly thickened.
Use an immersion blender to process the sauce to desired texture (slightly smooth, yet still a little chunky). Season with salt and pepper, to taste. Garnish with fresh basil. Serve over hot pasta.