It’s the end of the line for summer. Today is the last day of what some have said was the hottest summer on record. I believe them. I spent the season scurrying between air conditioned spaces, or dashing around the yard, repositioning the sprinkler to keep the tomatoes hydrated and the new pachysandra bed alive. I did a lot of sweaty running in the heat, while I was dodging the constant clouds of marauding mosquitoes, and avoiding the troop maneuvers of more ants than I have ever seen.
Here, late in September, the pachysandra have taken root, and the tomato plants yielded a modest crop. We were not carried away by the flying monkey-sized mosquitoes, and the ants’ mission remained top secret: they seem to have moved on. With the cooler afternoon temperatures, Luke the wonder dog and I have resumed our afternoon walks, so life is good. We aren’t trapped in the air conditioning, and we can stretch our legs again. The neighbors’ bushes have never smelled so sweet, or so I gather.
While I tend to whine about the summer heat and humidity, I am keenly aware that it is almost the end of the growing season for some of our favorite foods. Soon we won’t be able to hunt and gather our locally grown tomatoes and corn. It is time for all the wretched pumpkin-spice-flavored everything. I am preparing to transition. Last weekend we made a delightfully spicy tomato pasta dish with local cherry tomatoes. I am hoping it will taste as good, and feel as warming as the scorching days of August, in December, when all we have to choose from will be hot house tomatoes, or those trucked in from California for a king’s ransom, and a guilt-inducing carbon footprint. Mr. Sanders said that he preferred it to Martha’s One-Dish Pasta, which is in regular rotation for our Monday night pasta dinners. This is good dish to add to that rotation, albeit one with a more autumnal vibe. Plus you get to use four cloves of garlic. Yumsters!
As usual, I made some changes to this recipe as I went along. Our humble grocery store does not carry orecchiette-shaped pasta. (Their summer-long sale on Woodbridge chardonnay more than compensates for that tiny inconvenience.) So I substituted penne rigate, which seemed to be sturdy enough for the sauce. You might experiment with Dan Pashman’s cascatelli pasta, which is also sturdy and can hold the bold sauce in its nooks and curvy crannies. And I skipped the pine nuts, because I am on a budget, and so are you.
Everything else we had on hand, no extra shopping required. For once, I am proud to say, we had a shallot in the vegetable drawer, because Mr. Sanders cooked a fussy and fancy chicken piccata last week. Chicken Piccata It was deelish, too. One of our back porch basil plants came through the summer magnificently, and is busting out with lush greenery. I have to figure out if we have a bright and sunny corner in the house where so I can keep it happy through the winter, because nothing kick starts a tomato dish like fresh basil.
Ingredients – we halved this because it is only the two of us. Sorry, Luke. You have plenty of kibble.
¼ cup olive oil
1 small shallot, thinly sliced
4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
12 ounces pasta, such as orecchiette,
1/2 to 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 pound small, sweet cherry tomatoes, halved,
1/2 cup grated parmesan
4 ounces small mozzarella balls (I cubed fresh mozzarella, left over from last week’s pizza night)
1/2 cup fresh basil, thinly sliced or more to taste
Black pepper – to taste
Bring a large pot of water to a boil.Pour olive oil into a large skillet, warm, and add shallot and garlic. Add a pinch of salt. Turn the heat to medium high. When the oil begins to shimmer, stir the shallots and garlic, cover, and turn the heat down to low. Cook for roughly 5 minutes, or until the shallots and garlic get soft. Keep an eye on the garlic, which tends to burn to an incinerated cinder the minute you turn your back on the stove.
Be sure to add a handful of kosher salt to the water when it boils. Boil the pasta to al dente. Meanwhile, uncover the lid of the pan with the shallots and garlic. Add the crushed red pepper flakes and stir briefly. Raise the heat to medium, and add the tomatoes. Cook for 5 to 6 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the tomatoes begin to burst and break down. Add 1 cup of water, and bring the sauce to a gentle simmer.
Before draining the pasta reserve a cup of the pasta cooking liquid, just in case. Drain the pasta. Do not rinse. Transfer the drained pasta to the tomato sauce pan and stir to combine. Turn heat to low.
Add the parmesan cheese and pepper to the pasta. Add some of the reserved pasta cooking liquid if the sauce has thickened too much, we didn’t need it, but it is always wise to prepare for emergencies. Then add the mozzarella and basil, stir to combine, and serve immediately. Have a big bowl of grated parm on the table. Break out the salad, some still-on-sale wine, candles and some focaccia. Yumsters. And easy peasy.
It’s not greatly different from Martha’s One-Pan Pasta , but the heftier pasta makes it seem like it will be an excellent dish for cooler weather. And maybe we will get some soon. Enjoy the rest of your summer!
(The clever cooks at Food52 have another end-of-season pasta dish you might want to try: Tomato Tonnato From Botanical)
“Our bathing suits, waving like summer flags on the clothesline were begrudgingly packed away, and replaced with long-sleeved sweaters and woolly socks.”
― Arlene Stafford-Wilson