3 Picnic-Ready Pastas Packed With Summer Produce

Bonus: They're full of summer's bounty and can be made ahead, too. Columnist Emily Connor shows us how.

June 25, 2020
Photo by Anna Billingskog

It's the end of the long workday (or the start of an extra-long week) and we're hungry. Like, "can't-think-straight" hungry. Luckily, Food52 contributor EmilyC wants to do all the thinking for us. In Dinner's Ready, her monthly column on weeknight wonders, she shares three simple, flavor-packed recipes that are connected by a single idea or ingredient. Stick with Emily, and you'll have a good dinner on the table in no time. Today, Emily shows us a host of summery pasta recipes that can be made ahead and eaten hot or cold.

I love the start of summer for so many reasons...the long, warm days, the twinkling fireflies at dusk, ice cream sundaes just because. But the arrival of summer produce may top them all: Sweet corn on the cob. Juicy cherry tomatoes. Tender, leafy greens. Fragrant basil. All the zucchini and summer squash.

I’m already dreaming of the ways I’ll use the season’s bounty in the days ahead, but one thing is for certain: There will be pasta, and lots of it.

A box of pasta is practically a blank canvas for summer produce, with nearly limitless options for no-fuss dinners full of fresh, bright flavors. Ripe vegetables and tender herbs require little in the way of prep or cooking, which means a satisfying meal can be ready by the time the pasta is al dente. “Simple is best” is always a good mantra when it comes to weeknight cooking, but it especially rings true in the warm-weather months when seasonal ingredients so easily lead the way.

Below are three winning examples of simple summer pastas. They all feature fresh veg and greenery that’ll be easy to source from now until season’s end—whether at your local grocery store, farmers market, or even your own garden (lucky you!). Even better, each recipe is totally open to whatever pasta shape and produce you have on-hand. I’ve included lots of ideas for ingredient substitutions on each recipe page to make off-roading easier.

Pasta With Creamy Zucchini Pesto

I’ve never met a pesto I didn’t like, but I’m partial to this ultra-creamy version made from caramelized zucchini (an especially prolific vegetable this time of year) and garlic, pistachios, basil, lemon, and ricotta. The idea for blitzing caramelized zucchini and ricotta into a smooth, velvety sauce comes by way of Evan Funke’s recipe for zucchini filling (which he uses to stuff cestini, a handmade pasta) in American Sfoglino. The idea for shredding the zucchini to boost caramelization and further concentrate its flavor (vs. sautéing thick rounds, per Funke’s recipe) comes by way of Jennie Cook’s Zucchini Butter, a Genius recipe on this site. The zucchini-packed pesto is slightly more work than traditional pesto Genovese, but the steps are still pretty simple, and the flavor payoff is so worth it.

Pasta Salad With Crispy Salami & Cherry Tomato Vinaigrette

Would it even be summer without pasta salad that you can eat outdoors with a glass of rosé? To start, crisp salami in olive oil until its fat starts to render, then set it aside on a plate. Use the salami-flavored olive oil to make a zesty cherry tomato vinaigrette (in the same skillet) with sautéed red onion, red wine vinegar, lemon juice, and capers. Toss the vinaigrette with freshly cooked pasta (I like short, twisty varieties, like fusilli or gemilli, that the vinaigrette can cling to) and the crisped salami. Once it’s cooled a bit, add lots of peppery arugula and torn mozzarella. Dig in immediately, or pack away for effortless meals throughout the week.

Creamy Corn Pasta With Coconutty Greens

This hearty, zippy spin on creamed corn—a summertime staple across the South and Midwest—proves that summer pasta can be simultaneously bright and lively, cozy and comforting. Quickly sauté fresh-cut corn and tender greens, such as kale or Swiss chard, with shallots, garlic, fresh thyme, and chile flakes, then simmer in coconut milk (punched up with lime zest and a touch of curry powder) until tender. (The light creaminess of coconut milk enhances the corn’s natural sweetness.) To finish, toss the coconut-creamed corn and greens with your favorite pasta; I like orecchiette because of the way it catches the corn and sauce. To keep the dish vegan, sprinkle it generously with nutritional yeast (or grated Parmesan or Pecorino if preferred).

What's your favorite summery pasta to eat hot or cold? Let us know in the comments.

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Written by: EmilyC

I'm a home cook. I love salads. Two things you'll always find in my refrigerator are lemons and butter, and in my pantry good quality chocolate and the makings for chocolate chip cookies.