Sometimes all you need at the end of the day is a big bowl of pasta. Yes, a big bountiful salad may be the “healthier” option, but on those days, pasta is just the medicine you need.
The thing is, it’s summer. You don’t want anything too heavy or time intensive. You’ve just survived the day, so there’s no need to become a slave to your kitchen on top of everything else. You need fast, you need easy, but most of all, you need delicious and comforting.
The beauty of these recipes is the ease at which you can prepare them. I haven't included a specific list of ingredients for this very reason—these recipes should be thrown together with ingredients you have on hand, and you can let your taste buds be your guide. No measuring cups or spoons, no recipe book that you’re flipping back and forth. Just fresh, fabulous flavors quickly combined so you can enjoy the rest of your summer night.
Make sure to tell me in the comments section what your favorite summer pasta dishes are—I’m always looking for new ideas!
Cacio e Pepe
Seriously, this is the easiest recipe on the planet. Cheese and pepper is what “Cacio e Pepe” translates to, and that’s practically all the recipe includes—a drizzle of olive oil, some Parmigiano-Reggiano (a fancy Italian word for parmesan cheese), a sprinkle of red pepper flakes, and a quick grind of salt and pepper. Such a simple combination of ingredients, but trust me, it’s so flavorful you’ll find yourself making it time and time again this summer (and fall, winter, and spring too!).
Just cook one cup of rigatoni, drain, then drizzle with some extra virgin olive oil so the pasta is coated, sprinkle some red pepper flakes on top (or a few more if you’re feeling extra spicy), and then finish off with a few grinds of salt and pepper and some shavings of Parmigiano-Reggiano on top. That’s it—I told you it was easy!
Spinach and Goat Cheese Campanelle
This one involves slightly more work than Cacio e Pepe, simply because it requires you chop up some spinach. I know, I’m making you work so hard for your dinner. What I love about this recipe is that you can serve it warm or cold, so it’s great if you want to whip up a double batch and bring the leftovers with you for lunch the next day.
Cook one cup of campanelle according to the box’s instructions. Drain, then transfer the pasta back into the pot you cooked it in. Add the zest and juice from half a lemon, a big spoonful of creamy goat cheese, a handful of chopped fresh spinach, and a few grinds of salt and pepper. Taste to make sure your seasonings are okay, then grate some Pecorino Romano or Parmigiano-Reggiano over the top before serving.
Caprese salad screams summer to me. Plump, juicy tomatoes, creamy mozzarella, and loads of fresh basil. I could eat it for every meal! By adding some penne to the mix, you still get every bit of caprese fabulousness, but you’ll take it to the next level because the heat of the pasta starts to melt the mozzarella and the juice from the tomatoes mixes in with the olive oil to create the perfect light summer sauce. Delish.
Cook one cup of penne according to the box’s instructions. While it’s cooking, grab a couple of handfuls of cherry tomatoes, and chop them in half. Then chop up some fresh mozzarella, maybe 3 ounces or so, so that it’s equally sized to the tomatoes. Finally, roughly chop up a handful of fresh basil. When the penne has finished cooking, toss everything together with some extra virgin olive oil and a few grinds of salt and pepper.
Sausage & Broccoli Rabe Cellentani
This dish is slightly heartier because of the addition of sausage, but it can still be thrown together in a flash, since you cook the sausage and broccoli rabe while the pasta is boiling.
One thing to note here: Use fresh sausage, not the precooked kind you find at most grocery stores. When you cook the fresh sausage, it will release some fat and juices that you’ll use to cook the broccoli rabe in, so head to your local butcher and pick whatever sausage looks good to you. This recipe works equally well with asparagus or zucchini, so just grab whatever looks the fresh at the store.
Cook one cup of cellentani according to the box’s instructions. While it’s cooking, remove the skin from the sausage, and cook in a saucepan over medium heat. Attack it with a wooden spoon, moving it around the pan so it breaks into small, bite-sized pieces. When the sausage is cooked through, add the broccoli rabe florets (chop the stalks off the broccoli rabe so you’re only using the bushy heads), and cook for another five minutes or so. When the cellentani has finished boiling, drain the pasta, then toss into the pan with the sausage and broccoli rabe. Mix everything together, season with salt and pepper, add a little bit of extra virgin olive oil (only if you need it—if the sausage was extra fatty you may not need to), and finish with a cloud of Pecorino Romano dusted on top.
Macaroni & Cheese
I know, I know. This doesn't quite feel very summery. But you may have had one of those days, where nothing else will suffice.
The problem with a traditional mac and cheese is that it requires so many steps to make properly (make a roux, whisk, whisk, whisk some milk in, let thicken, season, mix in cheese), and on a weeknight, you may not want to embark down that road. Fear not, I have a cheat for you. Perfectly creamy and cheesy macaroni and cheese in 15 minutes time that doesn’t come from a blue box. You can thank me later.
Grab your saucepan and add one cup of milk and one cup of elbow noodles plus a few grinds of salt and pepper. Slowly bring to a simmer (small little bubbles around the edge of the pan, so the milk is barely rippling) over medium-low heat. The fiddly part of this recipe is you need to watch it like a hawk—first to make sure the milk doesn’t boil and secondly to continuously stir the pasta so it doesn’t stick together. It’s not so bad, though, and it actually can be quite therapeutic to do something mindless like this.
After 13-14 minutes, test the pasta to make sure it’s al dente, then remove from the heat and stir in one cup of grated cheese. Use whatever cheese you like—Cheddar, Gruyere, Provolone, or Mozzarella all work well, especially if you combine a few. If it seems too thick, you can stir in a little bit more milk, but that’s it! Dive on in, and leave your day behind.
Photos courtesy of Niki Lowry.