Recipes: Pep up your pasta with classic combinations

Fresh tomato, black olive and caper pasta. Picture: Paul Dodds
Fresh tomato, black olive and caper pasta. Picture: Paul Dodds
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Pasta is the ideal all-in-one dish and eminently suitable for summer as well as for comfort eating during the colder months. Summer pasta recipes include a variety of vegetables, whereas robust winter ones tend more towards cheese, meat and pork sausage sauces.

During these summer months we have an abundance of green vegetables and herbs available to us for combining with pasta, and for a contrast in colour and taste, fresh tomatoes which combine deliciously, when skinned, de-seeded and chopped, with stoned black olives, basil or mint as well as blanched garlic.

Which pasta shape and length you eat depends entirely on preference – these days mine is for either spaghetti or penne, the short, diagonally cut pasta, but there is a wealth of other types to choose from. Whichever, try not to overcook the pasta.

Don’t forget that a scattering of grated Parmesan on top embellishes and enhances the end result perfectly.

Pasta with roast asparagus and prosciutto

Serves 6

1 onion, skinned, halved and finely diced

1lb/450g asparagus, the bottom quarter of each stalk snapped off or sliced off, then each stalk sliced diagonally into 3

2 tablespoons olive oil

12 slices of Parma ham prosciutto, each chopped into 4 bits

finely grated rind of 1 lemon

1 teaspoon salt, about 15 grinds of black pepper

1lb/450g pasta of your choice – I use penne for this recipe, boiled in salted water for 7 minutes then drained

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, to stir through the drained cooked pasta before serving

Line a roasting tin with baking parchment – this helps hasten washing up afterwards. Spread the diced onion and sliced asparagus on this. Add the 2 tablespoons of olive oil and, with your hands, mix thoroughly through the diced onion and sliced asparagus. Spread evenly on the parchment, and roast in a hot oven, 400F/200C/Gas Mark 6 for 30-35 minutes. Put the bits of Parma ham prosciutto on top of the asparagus and continue to roast for a further 10 minutes. Take the roasting tin and its contents out of the oven.

Drain the pasta and mix in the roast asparagus, diced onion and bits of prosciutto, and the salt, black pepper and 2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil with the finely grated lemon rind. Serve immediately.

Pasta with peas, mint and courgettes

Serves 6

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 onion, skinned, halved and diced

8oz/225g courgettes, wiped, trimmed at either end, then diced thumbnail size

1lb/450g shelled peas – you can use frozen petit pois, but thaw them completely before using

1lb/450g pasta of your choice – for this recipe I use spaghetti, simmered in salted water for 7 minutes, then drained

1 teaspoon salt, about 15 grinds of black pepper

a small handful of mint leaves – no stalks – preferably applemint – chopped but not finely

1 tub of half-fat crème fraîche

In a wide sauté pan heat the olive oil and fry the diced onion, stirring, for 3-4 minutes. Then add the diced courgettes and stir and fry over fairly high heat until the courgettes are just tender. Add the peas to the pan and if they are fresh, cook, stirring from time to time, for a further 3-4 minutes. If the peas are thawed petit pois, cook for just a couple of minutes to heat them through. Add the salt, black pepper, chopped mint and crème fraîche. Let the contents of the pan simmer gently, then mix this through the drained, cooked pasta. Serve immediately.

Fresh tomato, black olive and caper pasta

Serves 6

1lb/450g pasta of your choice – my preference for this sauce is for spaghetti cooked in salted boiling water for 7 minutes then drained and mixed immediately with the following sauce:

1½ lbs/675g ripe tomatoes

3 fat cloves of garlic, blanched twice in their skins

12 top-quality black olives, my choice is for Kalamata olives, the flesh cut from the stones and the stones discarded

2 teaspoons large juicy capers, drained of their preserving brine

1 teaspoon salt, about 15 grinds of black pepper

small handful of basil leaves, torn into bits

Make this sauce in advance, then heat it in a saucepan before mixing it through the drained pasta.

Put the tomatoes in a wide bowl. Stab each in 3-4 places with the tip of a sharp knife, then pour boiling water over them, leave for 30 seconds and drain off the water. The skins should peel easily from each tomato. Cut each in half, scoop away the seeds, cut out the core and, on a large board, chop the skinned and de-seeded tomatoes with a large, sharp knife. Slice off the ends of each blanched garlic clove, the inner garlic should pop out of the skins effortlessly. Add these to the tomatoes on the board and chop until you have an almost minced texture to the tomatoes and garlic. Scoop the tomato and garlic sauce into a bowl and add the sliced black olive flesh and the capers. Season with salt and black pepper and add the torn bits of basil. Cover, and leave in a cool place. When you put the pasta on to cook, tip the tomato sauce into a saucepan and warm gently on a moderate heat. Stir the hot sauce through the drained pasta and serve immediately.

Claire Macdonald will be at the Brewin Dolphin Borders Book Festival (13-16 June) in Melrose on Saturday 15 June at 2:30pm. For tickets (£14, £12 conc), tel: 0844 357 1060 or visit