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One-pot pasta: The only thing to cook is noodles

by Olga Massov The Washington Post | September 6, 2023 at 1:53 a.m.
In this one-pot summer pasta, the only thing you cook are the noodles. MUST CREDIT: Photo for The Washigton Post by Scott Suchman

I've made a few one-pot pastas through the years -- the ones in which you throw pasta and vegetables into a deep-sided skillet filled with a liquid, usually water, and let the whole mess simmer away to produce cooked noodles, vegetables and aromatics for a saucy end result.

But in the summer, I like to lean into a one-pot pasta that requires barely any cooking at all, save for boiling the noodles. The general idea is to let the hot, just-boiled pasta, along with a splash or two of its starchy cooking water, aid in binding the noodles and just-warmed-through peak-season produce for a dish that's fresh, filled with bursts of juicy summer flavors and, best of all, ideal for casual weeknights, sweltering days or entertaining with little effort. The fringe benefit is that these ripe, in-their-prime ingredients retain the qualities that make them so exceptional.

It's all very straightforward. You bring a large pot of water to a boil, and while you wait for that, you prep the other ingredients: Chop the sugar snap peas -- still in their pods -- into bite-size pieces, husk the corn, and cut the kernels off the cobs. (By laying the cob parallel to the cutting board and slicing the kernels off, then rolling the cob to trim more kernels off, you'll be avoiding bits of corn shooting in every direction.)

Halving the cherry tomatoes takes mere seconds if you snugly arrange them between two deli container lids and then cut across. Mint leaves can be stacked on top of one another, rolled like tiny cigars, and sliced into mini ribbons. The lemon gets zested, then juiced.

Once the water is boiling, salt it, then taste it to make sure it's pleasantly seasoned; cook your pasta until al dente, reserve a splash of water, and drain. Then the noodles return to the bowl, along with some goat cheese, the prepped produce and a splash of the starchy pasta liquid, and everything gets tossed gently.

The vegetables retain their juicy, cooling crunch. And when spooned into bowls, dinner looks festive, bright and immensely appetizing. Even my skeptical 8-year-old, who at first refused to try it upon hearing the words "goat cheese," gave it two very enthusiastic thumbs up and asked for seconds.

Dinner success aside, I was pleased as punch cleaning up after dinner, even if it meant I was a few minutes closer to dealing with a towering basket of laundry that was waiting to be folded and put away.

This pasta is adaptable, so use what you have on hand. Green beans, arugula or spinach, thinly shaved zucchini or summer squash work well. In place of goat cheese, you can try fresh ricotta or crème fraîche, or add a fistful of grated parmesan to the goat cheese. Not a fan of mint or basil? Try dill, tarragon or even parsley.

Summer Pasta With Sugar Snap Peas, Corn, Goat Cheese and Mint

  • Fine salt
  • 1 pound curly or frilly dried pasta, such as girelle, trofie, cavatappi, cascatelli or orechiette
  • 4 ounces fresh goat cheese (chevre), cut into chunks
  • 1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 8 ounces sugar snap peas, cut on the bias into ¾-inch pieces
  • 1 ½ cups corn kernels (from 2 to 3 ears)
  • Finely grated zest and juice of 1 small lemon
  • 1 cup fresh mint or basil leaves, cut into chiffonade, plus more whole leaf for garnish
  • Freshly ground black pepper

Bring a large pot of water to a boil over high heat. Add enough salt so it tastes mildly salty (the goat cheese will add saltiness as well).

Add the pasta to the boiling water and cook according to the package instructions until al dente. Reserve about 1 cup of the pasta cooking water and drain the pasta.

Return the pasta to the pot, add the goat cheese and gently toss, adding a splash or two of the reserved pasta water, if needed, until the goat cheese has melted halfway. Add the tomatoes, sugar snap peas, corn, lemon zest and juice and continue to gently toss until the goat cheese fully melts and coats the pasta -- the pasta should be creamy but not overly saucy. (The residual heat of the pasta will warm the vegetables but not cook them.) Add the mint and toss gently to combine. Taste, and season with salt, if desired, and pepper.

Divide the pasta among the bowls, garnish with more mint or basil and serve.

Makes 4 to 6 servings.

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