My husband, Tad, and I are always working on a pasta dish. There is no beginning and there is no end. It's a once-a-week dinner that we've been making for years, and each time we tweak it, depending on what's in season, what's in the fridge, what's going on in our work-addled heads. It usually begins with bacon or pancetta. When Tad's at the helm, canned tomatoes will likely find their way into the pan, and if it's my turn, a pinch of crushed chiles. We've drifted from penne to rigatone to orecchiette to shells. We like shapes that our kids can easily spear with a fork. Sometimes eggs get tossed in for a little carbonara effect. And, occasionally, Tad will slip in goat cheese in his mother's honor (she made an excellent pasta with asparagus and goat cheese). There's never a recipe because we never stop the music, we never let the ingredients race to their seats to get counted.
But this week, I thought it was time to put the pasta on record. We'd hit on a new summer variation that was pretty nifty. We've gotten into adding grated summer squash, which nestles into orechiette's little cups. Mixing fresh squash into hot pasta is an excellent way to produce soggy pasta; we cut it off at the pass by first salting the grated squash to draw out its water, and squeezing out the gratings before adding them to the steaming pasta. The base is bacon, of course, with a pinch of red pepper flakes and a smashed garlic clove. And to underline the sweetness and freshness of the dish, we fold in some fresh-scraped corn and chopped basil. The dish is part vegetable, part pasta -- buoyant, bright, and just what we crave on a steamy summer evening. —Amanda Hesser
- Serves 4
slices bacon, cut crosswise into 1/4-inch pieces
garlic clove, peeled and smashed
Pinch red pepper flakes
3 medium yellow zucchini, ends trimmed
1 pound orecchiette or small shells
2 ears corn, kernels cut from the cobs, juices and all
2 tablespoons roughly chopped or torn basil
Freshly ground black pepper
Olive oil, if needed
Freshly grated Parmesan cheese, for serving
- Bring a large pot of generously salted water to a boil. Meanwhile, spread the bacon in a large saute pan, add the garlic clove, and set over medium heat. Cook the bacon until it's crisp and its fat has rendered. As you remove the bacon from the heat, stir in the red pepper flakes.
- Grate the summer squash on a box grater. Gather the gratings in a bowl and salt the squash -- I add about 1 1/2 teaspoons coarse kosher salt. Toss to mix. Let sit for at least 10 minutes, and up to 30 minutes.
- When the water is boiling, add the pasta and cook until al dente. Drain the pasta but don't shake it; you want a little pasta water to help create a sauce. Pour it back in the pot.
- Take fistfuls of the squash and squeeze it as firmly as possible to extract any liquid. Add the pressed squash to the pasta. Continue until all the grated squash has been squeezed. Then scrape the corn into the pot, and use a slotted spoon to add the bacon (if there's less than 2 tablespoons fat in the pan, I add the bacon and fat to the pasta); discard the garlic clove. Toss the pasta. Adjust the seasoning, adding more salt if needed. Also pepper and the basil. Toss again. Sometimes I add a few tablespoons of olive oil at this point. Spoon into shallow bowls and top with grated, cheese, but not too much. (And pour yourself a glass of sparkling Gruner Veltliner.)