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Pasta is the perfect companion for fresh, seasonal ingredients – and these recipes sing with sunny flavour.
Picture the scene: you’ve just returned home after a long day on the beach. The sun is still warm, the salt water has dried on your skin, and you’ve built up a hearty appetite. You’re craving something fresh but filling. And then it comes to you: a tangle of pasta, tossed through with juicy tomatoes, tender courgette and fresh pesto, is all you want piled high on your plate.
Granted, a hot summer’s day (or a British bank holiday washout) isn’t when we’d typically imagine ourselves tucking into pasta. After all, the carby wonder is frequently hailed as the ultimate comfort food. And in the winter months, when the cold seems to creep into our bones, a steaming bowl of spaghetti bolognese or a hearty wedge of lasagne certainly has the power to soothe.
But as the weather gets warmer, and we crave lighter, brighter food, pasta deserves just as much of a spot on our dinner tables. Not only does it pair brilliantly with summer’s crop of zingy herbs and colourful vegetables, but it’s super quick to cook, great to make in bulk and doesn’t require you to turn the oven on, meaning you can spend more time outside enjoying the balmy evening air.
Mateo Zielonka, otherwise known as The Pasta Man, knows a thing or two about creating clean summer flavours. Having cut his teeth at the likes of Polpetto and Padella, he now runs the restaurant at 180 The Strand, where he creates spectacular pasta dishes all year round. In his new cookbook The Pasta Man, he invites us to experiment with the store cupboard staple through recipes that sing with the flavours of authentic Italian cooking, as well as simple step-by-step guides to crafting our own handmade pasta.
Below, you’ll find three bright and beautiful recipes that will bring the sunshine, regardless of the weather forecast. Revel in the pleasure of making your own pasta from scratch, serve a generous portion, and if you’ve room for dessert, follow up with homemade granita. This is holiday food at its best.
Capunti with sardines, fennel, herbs
Mateo says: “Sardines are really healthy fish to eat, full of calcium, omega-3 oils and vitamin B12. OK, they do have a strong flavour and the tiny bones are fiddly, but it’s worth persisting as this is a fresh, herby dish that I hope you will be tempted to try. Serve this in a large bowl set in the middle of the table, scatter with pangrattato and eat with a green salad or garlicky broccoli.”
- 400g vegan semolina capunti (see below)
- 30ml olive oil
- 2 banana shallots, thinly sliced
- 3 garlic cloves, chopped
- 2 small fennel bulbs, diced as small as you can
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 teaspoon ground fennel seeds
- 1 x 140g tin of sardines in olive oil
- zest and juice of 1 lemon
- bunch of dill, chopped
- bunch of parsley, chopped
- pangrattato, to serve
In a large saucepan, heat the olive oil on a medium heat, then add the shallots, garlic, fennel and bay leaves and cook for 10–15 minutes until soft, stirring every few minutes. Add the ground fennel seeds and cook for another 2 minutes until the sauce is golden brown and fragrant.
Use your fingers to halve each sardine, remove the bones and break the sardines into chunks, discarding the oil. Add the sardines and lemon zest to the sauce and cook for a further minute, then take off the heat.
Bring a large pan of water to the boil before adding salt, and cook the capunti for 3–4 minutes.
Scoop out a ladleful of the pasta cooking water and add it to the sauce. Return the saucepan to the heat.
Drain the pasta, keeping a jugful of cooking water in case you need more, and transfer the pasta to the sauce. Combine them together, then season with salt flakes and freshly ground black pepper.
Add the lemon juice and the chopped herbs, and toss a few times so the sauce coats the pasta nicely, before transferring to a large serving bowl. Serve with a bowl of pangratto to scatter on top.
How to make vegan semolina dough
Mateo says: “This eggless dough is made from fine semolina, a type of flour ground from durum wheat. When it is cooked it has more bite than the softer egg pasta, and it also takes longer to cook – around 5–6 minutes instead of 2 minutes.”
Makes 400g, enough to serve 4
- 280g fine semolina
- 130g warm water
Place the semolina in a large mixing bowl, add a pinch of salt and pour in the warm water.
Combine with a fork – it will soon look like a crumble mix – and start to form the dough into a loose ball with your hands.
As soon as the dough has come together well, turn it onto a board or clean work surface and knead until it is elastic and smooth – this will take about 10–15 minutes. Use the heel of one hand to push the dough away from you, and use your other hand to turn it 90 degrees after each knead – you will soon develop a lovely rhythm.
Now form the dough into a flat disc (this will be much easier to roll out later). Wrap it tightly in clingfilm and rest in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.
Using a stand mixer
You can make this dough in a stand mixer with a dough hook attachment. Simply place the ingredients in the mixer bowl, start on a slow speed and mix steadily until the dough is formed.
Tip onto a work surface, flatten into a disc and wrap in clingfilm, as above.
How to make capunti
Mateo says: “I really like how much this shape has the look of an empty pea pod; the little dips formed by your fingertips are just made to carry the sauce. You can roll capunti on a garganelli board or simply use a clean kitchen worktop.
“You don’t need to rest this dough in the fridge before shaping; you can use it straight away. You can also dry it out if you like: just spread the shapes on a board dusted with coarse semolina and leave it uncovered for an hour or so. You can then store it in an airtight container and use it within two days.”
Prepare a tray or baking sheet dusted with coarse semolina, ready to lay out your finished pasta.
Take one quarter of vegan semolina dough, keeping the rest well wrapped, and roll it into a long rope that is about the thickness of a pencil.
Cut the roll into pieces about 4cm long.
Take a piece of dough, place it on the garganelli board or worktop and, using two or three fingers, press it and slide it towards you at the same time. The first few times you try this you may squash the dough by pressing a bit too hard, which means it won’t roll, but you’ll soon get the hang of it after a few attempts.
Place the shapes on the tray while you roll out the rest of the dough.
Tagliatelle with courgette, mint and basil
Mateo says: “This is a dish that reminds me of my friend, neighbour and keen gardener, Steve. I love inspecting his kitchen garden with him and sometimes I come away with some freshly picked vegetables or a handful of herbs.
“With such a simple recipe, good ingredients are really important and fresh local produce makes such a difference. If you can find a yellow courgette, it will bring a splash of sunny colour to this mainly green dish, and it also seems to make it taste creamier. If you do grow your own, you can always slice and add the courgette flowers to the sauce at the end.”
- 400g egg tagliatelle
- 250g courgettes (about 3 medium courgettes)
- bunch of mint
- ½ bunch basil
- 90ml olive oil
- parmesan, to serve
Prepare the courgettes: cut off the ends and grate the courgettes using the large holes on a box grater. Transfer to a colander or strainer, sprinkle with salt and leave for 20 minutes.
After 20 minutes, gently squeeze the grated courgettes to remove any excess liquid.
Meanwhile, pick the mint and basil leaves and, leaving some small mint leaves for garnish, roughly chop the rest.
Bring a large pan of water to the boil in readiness for the pasta.
At the same time, add the olive oil to a large saucepan on a medium heat, then add the grated courgette and a ladleful of boiling water.
Salt the boiling water for the pasta, then drop in the tagliatelle and cook for 1½–2 minutes. Using kitchen tongs, lift the pasta into the pan with the courgettes. Scatter in the mint and basil and toss everything together. The sauce should just coat the pasta (you’re unlikely to need to add any more of the pasta cooking water for this dish).
Check the seasoning and garnish with the remaining mint leaves. Serve with a chunk of parmesan and let everyone help themselves.
How to make classic egg dough
Mateo says: “This is the classic pasta recipe followed by generations of Italian families, using whole eggs and Italian 00 flour, and it is the best place to start learning how to make fresh pasta. You will end up with a soft yellow dough, ready to shape into ribbons or little parcels.
“If, when you are kneading the dough, it feels quite stiff and difficult to work, don’t give up. It will become more elastic the more you work it, the structure will improve, and it will soften further in the fridge as the moisture of the egg loosens the dough.”
Makes 400g, enough to serve 4
- 300g Italian 00 flour
- 3 eggs
Place the flour on a clean work surface or board and shape it into a mound. Make a well in the centre and crack the eggs into the middle.
Using a fork, break the egg yolks and start to gently whisk them.
Draw in the flour a little at a time and continue to combine with the fork.
When everything starts to come together, use your hands to knead the dough for 8–10 minutes until smooth. Use the heel of one hand to push the dough away from you, and use your other hand to turn it 90 degrees after each knead – you will soon develop a lovely rhythm.
When the dough is smooth, form it into a flat disc (this will be much easier to roll out later). Wrap it tightly in clingfilm (plastic wrap) and rest in the fridge for at least 30 minutes, or ideally overnight. Resting makes the structure of the dough smoother and more pliable, so it’s much easier to roll out and shape.
Using a food processor
You can also make pasta dough in a food processor – it’s really quick and easy, though I actually prefer to make it by hand, especially at home. (I like listening to music and kneading to the rhythm of some 80s classics!)
Place the flour in the processor bowl and secure the lid. Start the machine, then pour the eggs into the funnel.
Mix for 30 seconds, until the dough has the consistency of fine breadcrumbs.
Tip onto a board or into a bowl and use your hands to bring the mixture together to form a neat disc. Wrap the dough tightly in clingfilm and refrigerate, as above.
How to make tagliatelle
Mateo says: “The name of this pasta derives from the word tagliere, which means ‘to cut’ in Italian. We roll first, then we cut – easy-peasy. Your pasta machine should come with an attachment to cut tagliatelle.”
Start with half the egg dough, leaving the other half wrapped, and have ready a tray or baking sheet dusted with coarse semolina.
Roll out your pasta dough, stopping at setting 7, then cut the sheets into 25cm lengths.
Attach the pasta cutter to your machine and guide the sheets through on the tagliatelle setting.
Dust the cut pasta with semolina and either lay it flat or lift it by the centre of the strands and curl it into individual nests on the tray.
Leave to one side for 30 minutes, so that the pasta dries slightly before cooking. If you are shaping the tagliatelle more than an hour ahead of cooking, cover the whole tray with clingfilm so it is airtight.
Chitarra alla Genovese
Mateo says: “The classic pesto from Genoa is made with basil, garlic, pine nuts and olive oil, and everybody seems to love it. This dish is full of the beautiful flavours of spring and summer, so serve the pasta in a large bowl set in the middle of the table – preferably outside – and let everyone help themselves.
“The addition of new potatoes and crunchy beans makes this quite a filling dish. I leave out the garlic in my sauce to let the basil take centre stage. You can use tagliatelle instead of chitarra if you like.”
- 400g egg chitarra (see below)
- 250g new potatoes, scrubbed
- 200g green beans, ends trimmed
- 30g pine nuts
- bunch of basil (approx. 30g)
- juice of ½ lemon
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 40g parmesan, grated, plus extra to serve
- 100–130ml olive oil
Boil the new potatoes in salted water until cooked but still retaining a bite (this should take 12–15 minutes). Transfer to a separate dish and allow to cool before chopping them into small pieces.
Using the same cooking water, blanch the green beans – for no longer than 1½–2 minutes – then lift into a bowl of ice-cold water to cool. When the beans are chilled, remove from the water and slice into thumb-sized lengths.
Using a food processor or a mini chopper, blitz half the pine nuts for 10 seconds, then add the basil, lemon juice, salt, parmesan and, to start with, a drizzle of olive oil. Start blitzing the ingredients, slowly adding the remaining olive oil as you go.
When ready, transfer to a large saucepan and add the potatoes and beans.
Bring a large pan of water to the boil before adding salt, then cook the chitarra for 1½–2 minutes.
Warm the pesto on a low–medium heat with a ladleful of the pasta cooking water. Add the pasta to the pan, reserving some more water in case you need to loosen the sauce. Combine all the ingredients together, moving the pasta around the pan with kitchen tongs or a spatula. As always, check the seasoning.
Roughly chop the remaining pine nuts and finish the dish with more parmesan and the chopped nuts. Such a feast!
Use vegan dough for the chitarra.
Use nutritional yeast instead of parmesan.
How to make chitarra
Mateo says: “Chitarra means ‘guitar’ in Italian, a reference to the strings stretched across the wooden frame of the chitarra pasta cutter. It reminds me a bit of an old-style egg-slicer. The cutter comes with a small rolling pin to push the pasta dough through the strings to make the shape known as spaghetti alla chitarra.
“It’s really fun to make and one that kids may like to have a go at, too. You can easily find a chitarra online or you may be able to pick one up on your travels in Italy. You can make chitarra using either egg or vegan dough.”
Start with half of one of the dough recipes above, keeping the other half tightly wrapped, and prepare a tray or baking sheet dusted with coarse semolina, ready to lay out your finished pasta.
Roll out your pasta dough, stopping at setting 7. If you prefer a bit more bite to the cooked pasta, stop at setting 6.
Cut the sheets into pieces that match the size of your chitarra box. Dust each sheet generously with semolina and stack them as you cut them.
Place one sheet on top of the strings. Dust with more semolina and then, using a rolling pin, roll back and forth across the strings so that the dough falls through them into the box below.
Take out the pasta strands and place them on the tray. Dust with more semolina and leave to one side until you’re ready to cook.
Adapted from The Pasta Man: The Art of Making Spectacular Pasta - with 40 Recipes by Mateo Zielonka (£15, Quadrille), out now
Photography: © India Hobson
Christobel Hastings is a London-based journalist covering pop culture, feminism, LGBTQ and lore.