Summer is the season to lighten up your pasta dishes. Forget loading them with meatballs or drowning them in heavy sauce - Italians never do that anyway. Instead, switch to smaller amounts of intensely flavoured ingredients and allow the pasta to take front stage.
"In Italy they like the simple stuff," explains Rick Carlyon of Delmaine Fine Foods. "Here in New Zealand we tend to use a lot of sauce, but the Italians are more sparing with it so the pasta is the star of the dish."
Quality pasta is very simple to cook and there is only one proper way to do it. All you need is a big pan of boiling water. Don't bother putting oil in the cooking water to stop the pasta sticking. So long as you have enough space to swirl the pasta round easily, it should cook evenly and not stick.
Salt is important. Use about 5g to every litre of water and add to the pot once the water has hit a rolling boil. Then put in the pasta, stirring immediately - this is when the starches start to soften and it risks sticking. Put the lid back on the pan and bring back to the boil as quickly as possible. When you are cooking a large flat pasta, such as pappardelle or lasagne, it pays to stir often and keep it moving in the pan.
Italians tend to eat their pasta more al dente (firmer) than we do. Remember, it will continue to absorb moisture once it's tossed through the sauce, so it's better to drain it when it has slightly more bite than risk it becoming soggy.
SUMMER PASTA IDEAS
Keep jars of marinated chargrilled vegetables, olives and sundried tomatoes in your store cupboard for quick, delicious pasta dishes. Quickly sautee the vegetables to warm them, using a little of the flavoured oil from the jar, then add to cooked fettucine along with some prawns, fresh rocket and a dash of lemon-infused extra virgin olive oil. If you're not a seafood lover then instead of the prawns slice some dried chorizo and fry, then mix with the chargrilled vegetables and some chopped pitted kalamata olives.
Try making this fresh Sicilian pesto in high summer when the tomatoes are flavoursome. Lightly toast some almonds in the oven then crush, using a mortar and pestle, along with a couple of cloves of fresh garlic. Skin and deseed some tomatoes. Chop the flesh and mix with the almonds and garlic, some torn fresh mint, salt and pepper. Squish up a bit and add a good glug of extra virgin olive oil. You could also add chopped black olives and capers at the end.
Raw sauces are ideal for summer. Make this one with ripe, fresh tomatoes. Chop some drained pitted black olives, green olives, capers and anchovies (you could whiz very quickly in a food processor). Skin the tomatoes and chop. Put in a bowl with lots of chopped fresh herbs - use basil, Italian parsley and marjoram or oregano - two finely chopped cloves of garlic, salt, pepper and a half teaspoon of red wine vinegar. Add extra virgin olive oil and toss well.
Try this tasty sausage sauce with fettucine or penne. Buy 500g Italian sausage flavoured with fennel and/or chilli. Remove from its casing, break into small chunks and sautee. Add half a glass of red wine, a teaspoon of ground cinnamon and two tins of cherry tomatoes. Let this simmer for 15 minutes then combine with cooked pasta and top with grated pecorino cheese.
Make this quick caponata with a couple of jars of marinated artichoke hearts and serve with pasta as a semi-warm salad. Finely chop a stalk of celery and sautee in olive oil until tender. Drain the artichoke hearts and add to the pan with some garlic-infused oil, a splash of white balsamic vinegar, a teaspoon of sugar and a few fresh mint leaves. Break up a bit and warm through. Toss with penne or filled pasta with some toasted pine nuts, crumbled feta cheese and more mint leaves to garnish.