This quick and easy pasta recipe is all about pantry items that evoke the light and warmth of summer no matter the weather outside: sun-dried tomatoes, kalamata olives, and ajvar, a roasted-red-pepper paste that is ubiquitous in the Balkans and is easy enough to find now in U.S. grocery stores. Stock these three jars and you can have a bowl of sun-drenched pasta anytime. —laura
dried bucatini or other pasta
small yellow onion, sliced into thin half-rings
good olive oil
cloves garlic, minced
ajvar (I recommend varieties that are mild with lots of roasted red pepper and a little roasted eggplant for creaminess—look for a vivid orange color)
sun-dried tomato preserved in oil, drained and chopped
Bring a large pot of water to a boil and add salt. Add the pasta and cook to al dente, according to package directions.
Meanwhile, warm a pan over medium heat and add the olive oil, then when heated through add the onion and cook until softened, about 4 minutes. Add the oregano and stir and cook both another 4 minutes, or until onion is starting to get golden brown. Add the garlic and cook for another half minute.
If using vodka, add this now and stir and let it cook off for a few more minutes. Add the rest of the sauce ingredients: ajvar, then sun-dried tomatoes, then kalamata olives, stirring with each addition. Scoop out one cup of pasta water from the pot and add it to the pan and stir until all incorporated. Add more pasta water if necessary to achieve desired consistency.
Drain pasta and add it to the pan. Use tongs to coat thoroughly and twirl large scoops into pasta bowls. Optional garnishes: grated parmesan and fresh basil.