Hearty summer pasta? Does that seem like a contradiction in terms? Not at all. I like simple fresh vegetables and pasta just fine, but sometimes I miss that deep savory flavor that comes from slow-simmered meat sauce. This version of summer pasta has it all: minced, lean beef gets sauteed with garlic, thyme, tomato paste and red wine. Fresh cherry tomatoes are marinated with olive oil, lemon zest and juice and a little splash of red wine vinegar. Toss these components together with spaghetti, olives, and fresh basil, top it with Parmesan cheese, and there you go. A fresh, bright-tasting pasta dish that has hearty flavor, contrasting textures, and a summery lightness that makes it just right for these warm evenings. It goes together quickly and makes a terrific easy meal, with a glass of red wine and some good bread. This one may become a summer favorite in your house too.
Hearty Summer Pasta
(serves 4 to 6)
1 pound mixed cherry tomatoes, halved (or quartered, if large) *
1 tablespoon finely grated lemon zest
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
1 pound lean ground beef (sirloin or round)
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves
2 teaspoons red pepper flakes (or to taste)
2 teaspoons superfine sugar
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1/2 cup dry red wine
14 ounces spaghetti
1/2 cup black olives, roughly chopped
Fresh basil leaves, for garnish
Grated Parmesan cheese, for serving
Place the tomatoes, lemon zest, lemon juice, and red wine vinegar in a medium bowl. Add a generous pinch of salt, some pepper, and 1 tablespoon olive oil. Toss gently to combine, and set aside. Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large non-stick skillet over medium-high heat. Add the ground beef, garlic, thyme, and red pepper flakes and cook, breaking up any lumps with a wooden spoon, for 6-8 minutes or until browned. Season with salt and pepper, add the sugar and tomato paste, and cook for another 4-5 minutes. Add the wine and cook, stirring occasionally, for a further 3-4 minutes or until the liquid is reduced. While the meat is cooking, heat a large pot of salted water for the pasta. Cook the spaghetti until al dente, drain well, and add to the skillet with the ground beef mixture. Add the tomatoes and their juices with the olives, and toss the mixture together gently. Turn into a warm serving bowl, scatter with fresh, torn basil leaves and some grated Parmesan cheese. Serve immediately.
* A variety of colorful tomatoes makes the dish more attractive, but if these are not available, simply use the freshest, best quality tomatoes you can find.
(inspired by and adapted from Donna Hay magazine, volume 67)