One of my favorite summer dinners is a simple dish of pasta dressed with a sauté of zucchini and sweet corn. In my classes I always tell people that you can always make a quick "sauce" for pasta with a sauté of seasonal vegetables. Simply bind them with a convenient liquid (a little extra butter or olive oil...or both... maybe some cream or some stock), toss them with an appropriately shaped noodle and finish the whole thing with a little pasta cooking liquid. As with any vegetable sauté, garlic or onions can be added and fresh herbs are always welcome. Because summer vegetables tend to cook quickly, in most cases you can sauté the vegetables in about the amount of time it will take to cook the pasta.
I love the simple and clean flavors of this particular pasta. I have been making it for almost as long as I have been cooking. I never vary it too much...sometimes I use Pecorino cheese and sometimes Parmesan...but other than that it stays pretty much the same. I'm sure it would be fine with some caramelized summer onions, or maybe a few green beans that have been cut in short lengths and boiled in the pasta water (as in the vegetable sauté I posted a year ago). The basil could also be replaced (or augmented) with thyme, marjoram or oregano. In her book Chez Panisse Vegetables, Alice Waters makes a very similar recipe, replacing the basil with cilantro and adding a finely minced jalapeño with the garlic. She tosses hers with fettuccine, but I prefer orecchiette (or some other small shell-like pasta). I'm particularly attached to the way the little cupped shape of the noodle cradles the tiny diced squash and the corn.
Most of the time I encourage people to play with recipes—varying them to suit their tastes and their pantries. But this time, while corn and summer squash are at their seasonal peak, I recommend sampling this pasta just as it is written. Take advantage of the opportunity to experience the current year's corn and zucchini at their summery best.
Summer Pasta with Sweet Corn & Zucchini
1 lb. orecchiette, shells or farfalle pasta
2 to 3 T. olive oil
12 to 16 oz. small zucchini (about 4 or 5), cut in a 1/3-inch dice
2 to 4 T. unsalted butter
2 to 3 cloves of garlic, finely minced
3 to 4 medium ear of corn (about 3 c. cut kernels)
a handful of basil, cut in a fine chiffonade
salt & pepper to taste
Freshly grated Parmesan or Pecorino, optional
In a sauté pan just large enough to hold the squash in a loose single layer, heat the oil over medium to medium-high heat. Add the squash and sauté until it is beginning to turn golden in spots and is just tender, but not soft—about 3 or 4 minutes.
Add a tablespoon or so of butter and the garlic, followed by the corn. Season with salt & pepper and continue to cook until the corn is tender—another 3 to 5 minutes. If the vegetables seem dry, add more butter.
While the vegetables are cooking, cook the pasta into 6 quarts of rapidly boiling water seasoned with about 2 Tablespoons of salt. Stir and cook until the pasta is al dente. (It works out fairly well for this pasta to start cooking the pasta at the same time you start to sauté the zucchini.)
Drain the pasta (reserving some of the pasta water) and add it to the vegetables along with the basil and another couple of tablespoons of butter. Toss the pasta and add enough of the reserved pasta water to make a thin film of buttery liquid coating the pasta—there should not be any liquid pooling in the bottom of the pan. Add more butter and/or more pasta water to achieve the desired consistency. Serve, sprinkled with more basil and grated Parmesan or Pecorino if you like. Serves 4 to 6.