Pasta Sauces Don't Get Any Fresher Than This

Cookbook offers creative recipes for just-picked veggies

Quick - what garden vegetables can be made into a pasta sauce?

Tomatoes, garlic, onions... maybe some herbs...

Jack Bishop, an editor at Cook's Illustrated magazine, says snap out of it! Don't be set in your ways. There are many garden delights that lend themselves to wonderful sauces - from chicory and radicchio to squash and fava beans. "These vegetables are at the market saying 'Please, buy me,' " he says.

To make his point, Mr. Bishop has written "Pasta e Verdura: 140 Vegetable Sauces for Spaghetti, Fusilli, Rigatoni, and All Other Noodles" (HarperCollins, 326 pp., $26)

"It should keep anyone happily cooking and eating pasta for a long time to come," comments Deborah Madison, author of "The Greens Cookbook."

The brightly colored cover of Bishop's book hints at what's inside: an appealing array of veggie-based pasta toppers, specifically A to Z - asparagus to zucchini. He includes common vegetables, such as broccoli and mushrooms, as well as Italian staples, such as fennel and eggplant, and the often-overlooked vegetables, such as kale and escarole. (Don't worry, tomatoes still have a starring role.)

And what better time than summer to experiment?

Besides being an editor at a food magazine, Bishop has several other credentials that put him in good standing to write such a cookbook.

First of all, he's part Italian. "Some of the recipes are straight from my grandmother," he says in an interview. Italian cooks have been turning vegetables into wonderful and simple sauces for centuries, he notes.

"I'm also a 'semi-vegetarian' and a real fresh-herb fan," says Bishop, who is as lean as a bean. "This book is for people who want to eat meatless a couple times a week." (You can always add meat to vegetable sauces, too.)

The key to all this, he says, is versatility and ease. "People feel they can handle this: Use five or so ingredients to deliver maximum flavor. That means going to the market and picking out what looks good and what's in season."

The bonus is the efficiency of these dishes, says Bishop. Who has time for torturous recipes with long ingredient lists and procedures - not to mention arduous cleanup? He is one to know: Bishop just moved into his first home with his wife and new baby girl. And in case you were wondering, he says, pasta is pretty kid-friendly.

Arugula

with Black Olive-Tomato Sauce

2 tablespoons olive oil

3 medium cloves garlic, minced

1/2 teaspoon hot red pepper flakes or to taste

1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes

20 oil-cured black olives (about 2 ounces), pitted and chopped

Salt to taste

1 large bunch arugula (1/3 pound)

1 pound pasta (curly shaped like fusilli)

Freshly grated Parmesan cheese to taste

Bring 4 quarts of salted water to a boil in a large pot for cooking the pasta.

Heat the oil in a large skillet. Add the garlic and hot red pepper flakes and saut over medium heat until the garlic starts to color, 1 to 2 minutes.

Add the tomatoes and olives to the pan and simmer until the sauce thickens a bit, about 10 minutes. Add salt to taste but use sparingly if the olives are particularly salty.

Stem, wash, and partially dry the arugula. Set the damp arugula leaves aside.

While preparing the sauce, cook and drain the pasta. Toss the hot pasta with the tomato sauce and the arugula. Stir several times to wilt the arugula. Transfer portions to warm pasta bowls. Serve immediately with grated cheese passed separately. Serves 4.

Steamed Broccoli with Sun-Dried Tomatoes and Lemon Zest

1 large bunch broccoli (about 2 pounds)

6 tablespoons olive oil

4 medium cloves garlic, minced

1 teaspoon grated lemon zest

15 sun-dried tomatoes packed in olive oil, drained and cut into thin strips

1 teaspoon salt

1 pound pasta (curly shaped like fusilli)

1/2 cup grated Parmesan

Bring 4 quarts of salted water to a boil in a large pot for cooking the pasta.

Trim and discard broccoli stalks. Separate the florets and cut them into small, bit-sized pieces. There should be about 5 cups of florets. Steam the broccoli until almost tender, about 3 minutes. Set the broccoli aside.

Heat the oil in a large skillet. Add the garlic and saut over medium heat until golden, about 2 minutes. Add the lemon zest, sun-dried tomatoes, and salt and continue cooking for another minute.

Stir in the steamed broccoli and toss well to coat the florets with the oil. Cook until the broccoli is heated through and tender, about 1 minute. Taste for salt and adjust seasonings if necessary.

While preparing the sauce, cook and drain the pasta making sure that some water still clings to the noodles. Toss the hot pasta with the broccoli sauce. Add grated Parmesan. Mix well and transfer portions to warm pasta bowls. Serve immediately. Serves 4.

Grill-Roasted Eggplant with Tahini, Lemon and Parsley

This sauce takes its cue from the Middle Eastern dip called baba ghanoush.

4 medium eggplants (about 2 pounds)

2 medium cloves garlic, peeled

1/3 cup tahini (sesame paste)

1/4 cup lemon juice

1 teaspoon salt

Freshly ground black pepper to taste

1 pound pasta (spaghetti)

1/4 cup minced fresh parsley leaves

2 tablespoons olive oil

Light the grill or make a charcoal fire. Bring 4 quarts of salted water to a boil in a large pot for cooking the pasta.

Prick the eggplant in several places with a fork. Use a stiff wire brush to scrape the hot grill clean. Place the eggplant on the grill and cook, turning several times, until the skins blacken and eggplant soften and collapse, about 20 minutes. Briefly cool the eggplants until they are just warm to the touch. Trim the stem and peel away the skin with your fingers. Transfer the pulp to a colander to allow the juices to drain off. Mash the pulp with a fork and continue to allow the juices to drain off for several minutes.

Place the garlic, tahini, lemon juice, salt, and pepper in the work bowl of a food processor and pulse several times to combine. With the motor running, pour 2 tablespoons cold water through the feed tube to thin the mixture.

Add the eggplant pulp to the food processor and blend until smooth. Add more cold water, a tablespoon at a time, to thin the pure if it seems too thick to coat pasta. Taste for salt and pepper and adjust seasonings if necessary.

While preparing the sauce, cook and drain the pasta. Toss the hot pasta with the eggplant pure and the parsley. Mix well and transfer portions to warm pasta bowls. Drizzle some of the oil over each bowl of hot pasta and serve immediately. Garnish with tomatoes. Serves 4 to 6.

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