Monday, August 12, 2013

Summer Fresh Pasta

This is my go-to meal for numerous reasons: it is quick, it is vegetarian, and it is chock full of fresh summer produce.  When your garden (or farmers market or grocery store) is brimming with juicy tomatoes, shiny zucchini, and fragrant basil, this dish will definitely make a regular appearance on your table.

One serving of pasta is only half a cup, but just like eating a sandwich with two pieces of bread, we often eat two servings of grains at one time.  One way to make pasta a more healthful dish is to make it a side instead of a main.  You can also pump it up with vegetables so that it is filling, nutritious, and has more volume - that's what this recipe does.  This will generously serve two as a main course or four as a side.


2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
1 medium zucchini or yellow summer squash
10 spears of asparagus
2 cloves garlic
6-7 cocktail tomatoes (I like Campari)
4 balls of bocconcini cheese
2 Tbsp fresh basil
Freshly grated parmesan cheese
2 cups of short pasta (like penne)
salt and pepper


1. Put a pot of water with salt on to boil.  Chefs say that there should be enough salt in the pot so that it tastes like the sea.  If you are restricting your salt intake, use less.  Pot manufacturers say not to put the salt in the pot until it comes to a boil so that it does not pit the bottom of the pot, but I always forget if I don't put it in right away.  If you can remember to put the salt in after the water boils, power to you!

2. Cut the zucchini lengthwise into quarters and then slice each quarter into crescents.  Snap off the tough ends of the asparagus and then cut the spears into half-inch pieces.

3. Add the olive oil, red pepper flakes, zucchini, salt, and pepper to a large skillet and sauté over medium heat.

4. When the water boils, add the pasta to the pot and stir once.  At this point, add the asparagus to the skillet and continue to sauté.

5. Cut the tomatoes into eighths, mince the garlic, cut the bocconcini balls into eighths and chop the basil into thin strips (called chiffonade).  To chiffonade the basil, roll it up lengthwise like you are rolling a cigar (because everyone knows how to do that!) and then slice with your knife while you hold it tight with your other hand.

6. When there are two minutes left in the pasta cooking time, add the garlic and tomatoes to the skillet.  The tomatoes will lose their juices to create a sauce, but you don't want them to cook too much.  They should still hold their shape.

7. When the pasta has finished cooking, drain it in a colander. Take the skillet off the heat and sprinkle the bocconcini over top.  Be sure to spread it out so that it doesn't clump too much when it melts.

8. Add the cooked pasta on top and stir. You will probably have to add a bit more salt and pepper at this point.

9. Spoon each serving onto a plate.  Top with some of the fresh basil and shave some fresh parmesan over top.  Enjoy!



1. Instead of asparagus, green beans would also work well.  Although not as healthy, this dish is also good without asparagus or green beans.

2. Whole wheat pasta is obviously more healthy, but many people cannot stand the cardboard taste it has at first.  If that is the case, you can use half whole wheat and half white pasta.  If one has a longer cooking time, put it in the pot first, and then add the one with the shorter cooking time after.  Over time, you can increase the amount of whole wheat and decrease the amount of white pasta.  Also, whole wheat pasta made with brown rice is usually more palatable than the pasta made with wheat.

3. It would also be very easy to make this dish vegan by leaving out the cheese.


1. Served cold the next day, this makes a great pasta salad.  One of my friends actually prefers his as a salad and waits until the next day to eat it at all.

2. What do you do with the leftover bocconcini cheese?  Make a lettuce salad.  For the salad use mixed greens (not iceberg), tomatoes, bocconcini, avocado and basil.  Sprinkle extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar over top.  Finish with a bit of salt and pepper to bring out the flavours of the produce. You can also add toasted pumpkin seeds, if you want.

Shopping Tips:

1. When buying bocconcini, do not buy the mini or pearl size - they are very rubbery.  Even better, fresh mozzarella is a superior product to bocconcini balls.

Even though there are a few steps to this recipe, it really is as simple as throwing a bunch of fresh seasonal produce into a pan and adding some pasta.  This is a great basic recipe to freestyle with, and after you become comfortable with the procedure, your imagination is the limit.  Just be sure to always include the tomatoes, or you will be left with a sauceless sauce!


  1. Sounds delicious, Shannon; can't wait to try it out. Why not make a pasta dish the main dish of the meal? We do that all the time (e.g. lasagna). You said to make it healthier, serve it as a side... a side to what? Also, can you please tell me how to judge the ratio of olive oil to balsamic vinegar to make a salad dressing? I want to get away from using bottled salad dressing that are full of unpronounceable ingredients! (Is balsamic vinegar the one that smells like dirty socks?)

  2. The reason for not making it the main dish is just to have more balance. In other words, so that your meal does not end up being all carbohydrates. That would happen with spaghetti and tomato sauce. That's why adding a bunch of veggies will make it more healthful as a main dish. This one can be a main dish, or it can also be the side to a piece of meat, if you want. A traditional vinaigrette uses three parts oil to one part acid, but that is too much oil for my tastes. I usually use equal parts of each. For this salad, though, it is very easy - drizzle a bit of oil over top and then drizzle a bit of balsamic over top. It's really fast and easy. This combination doesn't work very well for a pre-made dressing because there is nothing to emulsify the two together. If you actually want to make a dressing in bottle, you will have to add a bit of dijon mustard. Phew! Balsamic is the dark brown/black vinegar. I don't think it smells like socks, that's malt...

  3. I loved this one Shannon! So easy to prepare and so difficult to mess it up! I had some of the ingredients left over from Saturday so I've purchased more zucchini, asparagus, tomato and I'm making it again tonight!