Most of the year, pasta is a pull-from-the-pantry dinner. But with summer gardens about to burst, we’re thrilled to switch it up with fresh ingredients. Half moons of zucchini lighten a creamy saffron pasta with tubular cavatappi, a recipe we learned in Bologna, Italy. Blitzing sweet summer corn in a blender with scallions helps create a creamy sauce — with no cream — for bucatini with fresh chilies and pecorino Romano cheese. And eggplant and tomato star in our lighter version of Sicilian pasta alla Norma with basil and ricotta salata.
Pasta With Zucchini, Pancetta, and Saffron
Makes 4 servings
This is our version of a fantastic pasta offering from Bologna’s Trattoria Bertozzi. In lieu of guanciale (cured pork jowl), we opt for easier-to-find, but equally meaty, pancetta, and we lighten up the dish’s richness by swapping half-and-half for the cream. The restaurant uses gramigna, a tubular, curled pasta from the Emilia-Romagna region. We found that more widely available cavatappi or gemelli works just as well in combining with the zucchini and catching the lightly creamy sauce in its crevices.
Drain the pasta before it gets to al dente, when it has a little more bite than is desirable in the finished dish; the noodles will cook a bit more in the sauce. Also, be sure to reserve 2 cups of the cooking water before draining the pasta.
1 pound zucchini
12 ounces short, curly pasta, such as cavatappi or gemelli
Kosher salt and ground black pepper
½ teaspoon saffron threads
3 ounces pancetta, finely chopped
1 medium garlic clove, smashed and peeled
½ cup half-and-half
1 ounce Parmesan cheese, shaved with a vegetable peeler
Halve the zucchini lengthwise, then use a spoon to scrape out the seeds. Slice each half lengthwise about ¼ inch thick, then cut the strips crosswise into 1-inch sections and set aside.
In a large pot, boil 4 quarts of water. Add the pasta and 1 tablespoon salt, then cook, stirring occasionally, until just shy of al dente. Reserve 2 cups of the cooking water, then drain. In a small bowl, combine 1½ cups of the reserved water and the saffron; set aside the remaining ½ cup water.
While the pasta cooks, in a 12-inch skillet set over medium heat, cook the pancetta and garlic, stirring occasionally, until the pancetta has rendered some of its fat and begins to crisp, about 3 minutes. Remove and discard the garlic, then stir in the zucchini and ½ teaspoon pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the pancetta is fully crisped and the zucchini is lightly browned, 4 to 6 minutes.
Add the pasta and the saffron water to the skillet. Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat and cook, stirring often, until the pasta is al dente, 4 to 5 minutes. Add the half-and-half and cook, stirring, until the sauce is lightly thickened and clings to the pasta, about 1 minute. Off heat, taste and season with salt and pepper. If needed, stir in the additional reserved pasta water 1 tablespoon at a time to create a lightly creamy sauce. Transfer to a serving bowl and top with the Parmesan.
Bucatini With Sweet Corn and Scallions
Makes 4 to 6 servings
This creamy yet light pasta dish, loosely based on a recipe from Mastering Pasta by Marc Vetri and David Joachim, is delicious made with frozen corn kernels, but it’s even better with peak-season fresh corn. If using fresh corn, you’ll need to cut the kernels from 3 large or 4 medium ears to get the amount called for in the recipe. Fresh chilies, a generous amount of scallions, and grated pecorino Romano cheese add a spiciness and savoriness that balance the corn’s natural sweetness.
3 cups fresh corn kernels cut from the cobs, or 1 pound frozen corn kernels, thawed, drained, and patted dry
1 bunch scallions, thinly sliced, whites and greens reserved separately
Kosher salt and ground black pepper
1 pound bucatini pasta or spaghetti
4 tablespoons salted butter, cut into 4 pieces
2 ounces pecorino Romano cheese, finely grated (1 cup)
1 or 2 Fresno or jalapeño chilies, stemmed, seeded, and thinly sliced
In a blender, puree 2 cups of the corn, the scallion whites, ½ cup water, 1 teaspoon salt, and ½ teaspoon pepper. Cook the pasta in a large pot of salted, boiling water until al dente. Reserve 1 cup of the cooking water, then drain.
In a 12-inch skillet set over medium heat, melt the butter. Add the corn puree and remaining kernels, then cook, stirring, until darkened slightly. Off heat, add the pasta, cheese, and chilies, then toss, adding cooking water to thin. Season with salt and pepper. Serve sprinkled with the scallion greens.
Penne With Eggplant, Tomatoes, and Ricotta Salata
Makes 4 servings
This classic Sicilian dish of eggplant and pasta in tomato sauce, known as pasta alla Norma, is said to take its name from a 19th-century Bellini opera. Typically, the eggplant is fried before being added to the sauce, but we opt to roast it to concentrate its flavor and condense its porous texture. While the eggplant is in the oven, prep the other ingredients and simmer the tomatoes to make the sauce.
Ricotta salata is a firm cheese with a milky, salty flavor. Fresh ricotta won’t work in its place; a mild feta is a more appropriate substitute.
Remember to reserve about ½ cup of the pasta cooking water before draining. You’ll need the starchy, salted liquid to help bring together the eggplant, pasta, and sauce during the final simmer.
1 1-pound eggplant, peeled and cut into ¾-inch cubes
6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
8 medium garlic cloves, finely chopped
½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
2 pints cherry or grape tomatoes
2 tablespoons white balsamic vinegar
12 ounces penne or mezze rigatoni pasta
½ cup lightly packed fresh basil, roughly chopped
2 ounces ricotta salata cheese, shredded on the large holes of a box grater
Heat the oven to 475 degrees with a rack in the upper-middle position. Line a rimmed baking sheet with kitchen parchment. In a large bowl, toss the eggplant with 4 tablespoons of the oil and ¾ teaspoon salt. Distribute in an even layer on the prepared baking sheet and roast until browned and tender, 30 to 35 minutes, stirring once halfway through. Remove from the oven and set aside.
While the eggplant roasts, in a 12-inch skillet set over medium-high heat, warm the remaining 2 tablespoons oil until shimmering. Add the garlic and pepper flakes and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the tomatoes and ¾ teaspoon salt, then cover and cook, occasionally shaking the pan, until the tomatoes begin to release their liquid, about 1 minute. Stir in the vinegar, then use the back of a large spoon to crush the tomatoes. Cover, reduce to medium, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the mixture breaks down into a lightly thickened sauce, 8 to 9 minutes. Remove from the heat and cover to keep warm.
In a large pot, bring 4 quarts of water to a boil. Stir in the pasta and 1 tablespoon salt, then cook, stirring occasionally, until the pasta is just shy of al dente. Reserve about ½ cup of the cooking water, then drain and return the pasta to the pot.
Add the eggplant, tomato sauce, and ¼ cup of the reserved pasta water to the pasta. Cook over medium heat, stirring, until the sauce begins to cling to the pasta, 2 to 3 minutes. Stir in half of the basil, then taste and season with salt and pepper. Serve sprinkled with the remaining basil and the ricotta salata.
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