Consider pasta for the Fourth of July

July 1, 2014 

Pasta is so versatile it is good in any season, including the brutally hot and humid summers in the South.

It can be made into a cold salad, or something that is still good served only at room temperature. A good summertime pasta is filling, delicious and simple to make. What could be better for the Fourth of July?

Instead of making a thick sauce, we can use things right from the garden. Try fresh tomatoes, basil and lots of Parmigiano-Reggiano for a perfect summertime meal. If it is true simplicity you are after, olive oil, good pasta and Parmigiano-Reggiano is wonderful, and it is delightful at room temperature.

If you really want to get into the spirit of the holiday, consider some of the flavored pastas. You can mix your own, usually purchased from a specialty store, to combine red, which is made with tomato, white, from regular durum wheat and blue, believe it or not blueberry pasta is available if not hard to find (you could just add some blueberries to a pasta salad). Could there be a better combination for this holiday?

If that seems like a bit much, just use a tri-colored pasta that most grocery stores carry. It may not be the patriotic colors of the U.S. flag, but it sure livens up a pasta dish. Red, green and brown are the most common colors.

Not all pastas are created equally. Shop around and find a brand you like. Several are imported from Italy that are quite good. It is also important to follow the cooking directions correctly. The water you cook pasta in should taste salty like the sea. The Italians like their pasta al dente, which means "to the tooth" in Italian. The point is that the pasta should never be overcooked and mushy but should remain toothsome.

Don't relegate pasta to the cold winter months, but brighten up your summer table with pastas that are light and delicious. If you are feeling innovative, make a colorful pasta for the Fourth of July that your friends will never forget, and forget about serving it hot. A cool pasta salad will hit the spot on a hot summer day and be a perfect side dish for the main course.

SWEET POTATO AND BACON

This is a pasta idea with a real Mississippi influence.

1 (16 ounce) package pasta

1-2 Mississippi grown sweet potatoes (depending on size)

3-4 strips smoked bacon or1/4 cup chopped country ham

2-3 cloves chopped garlic

Parmigiano-Reggiano

Olive oil

Freshly ground black pepper

Red pepper flakes

Prepare the pasta according to package directions, drain, but reserve a cup of the pasta water and set aside. Add a little olive oil to the still hot pasta and grate about1/4 cup of Parmigiano-Reggiano into it, add a pinch of red pepper flakes, stir and set aside. Fry the bacon in a large sauté pan until crispy, drain the bacon, chop and set aside. If you do not have health concerns, retain the bacon fat in the pan. Cut the sweet potato into cubes, a little more than a cup will do. Simmer in salted water until not quite done, drain, then sauté over a hot flame, with the garlic, in the bacon fat, or olive oil, until they take on color. Toss the sweet potatoes, black pepper and bacon in the pasta and serve with lots of Parmigiano-Reggiano at hand. Add a little of the pasta water if it is too thick for your liking. Some may want a dribble or so of olive oil,

if you are using the good stuff. Serve warm.

PASTA AND GREENS

This is another Southern-inspired pasta that you are sure to like. Depending on the season, use collard, turnip greens or fresh spinach. Delete the cream if you want a healthier version.

1 pound pasta prepared according to package directions

1 package spinach (summer time)

1/4 cup chopped smoked ham

2-3 cloves chopped garlic

1/4 cup cream (optional)

Fresh ground black pepper

Parmigiano-Reggiano

Olive oil

Sauté the ham in a little olive oil until it starts to brown, add the garlic and cook for a few minutes more. Add the spinach, and a little more oil if necessary, and toss over a medium flame until the spinach wilts. Add the cream, some Parmigiano-Reggiano, season with the pepper and toss in the pasta. Serve warm.

SHRIMP AND PASTA SALAD

No true Italian would serve any seafood with Parmigiano-Reggiano or any other cheese, but Americans seem not to hold that convention dear, be your own guide.

1 package pasta cooked according to package directions

1 pound large, shelled shrimp

1/4 cup chopped red onion

1 cup cooked green peas

1 cup white wine

Pinch red pepper flakes

Black pepper

Olive oil

Sauté the onions in a little olive oil, remember to season as you go. Add the shrimp and cook over medium high heat for 2 or 3 minutes at most. Add the peas, season again if needed, then add the wine and cook over medium heat until the wine is almost all evaporated. Toss in the pasta and serve cold or warm.

TOMATO AND BASIL PASTA SALAD

This is a pasta idea that has Italian and Southern roots and is great in the summertime. This recipe is simple enough to involve the kids.

1 pound pasta cooked according to package directions

2-3 red ripe local tomatoes

2-3 cloves crushed garlic

1/4 cup shredded fresh basil leaves

Red pepper flakes

Olive oil

Parmigiano-Reggiano

Sauté the garlic in a little oil, along with a pinch or two of red pepper flakes for 2 to 3 minutes. Turn the heat to low. Rough chop the tomatoes and add them to the pan, toss well. Add the basil and as much Parmigiano-Reggiano as you like, toss again and serve warm or cool.

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