taste of tuscany/iowa/chicago

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Someday when I write a cookbook, the longest chapter will be called “summer pastas.”

“Why not just make a whole cookbook about summer pastas, then?” you will ask.

“Think of all the cookies that would never get their moment of glory if I did that!” I will reply.

But who has the energy to fire up her oven and bake cookies when it’s hotter than the hinges hanging on the gates of hell outside? Unless it’s for a really really good cause, (ahem, blueberry pieI’d rather not leave my stove on any longer than it takes to boil a pot of pasta water.

My sister and I invented this recipe one summer when we were both in high school and proceeded to make it for lunch at least four times a week until school started up again. We clearly share the gene for “creatures of habit,” nestled on some chromosome right next to the parts that code for freckles and bullheadedness. We call this one summer pasta to rule them all “Tuscan,” but a more accurate name would be “July in Iowa,” since it relies heavily on the bounty of my parents’ garden or the Des Moines farmers’ market. I brought a big bag of produce back to Chicago from my trip to Iowa last weekend and made Tuscan pasta for the first time all summer. Tastes like home to me no matter where I make it.

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It seems strange to me to write out a recipe for Tuscan pasta since it is a decidedly anti-recipe sort of dish. You should use whatever kinds of fresh vegetables and melty cheese you happen to have on hand. At least one tomato and a hearty handful of basil are really the only irreplacable elements.

If I write about summer pastas a fraction as often in the next few months as I cook them, prepare for a deluge of recipes. Happy cooking!

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Tuscan Pasta

1/2 lb pasta, any shape

3 T olive oil

1/2 red bell pepper and two banana peppers, sliced

1 medium zucchini or summer squash, thinly sliced

1 medium onion, chopped

2-3 cloves garlic, minced

1 or 2 medium ripe tomatoes, diced

2 large handfuls baby spinach

1/4 t dried red pepper flakes

1/2 t dried oregano

4 T balsamic vinegar

salt and black pepper, to taste

1/4 c fresh basil, roughly chopped

1/2 c crumbled feta cheese

Put a large pot of water on to boil and cook according to directions on the box

Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a large skillet. Saute the onions over medium heat until they just start to get some color. Add the garlic and cook for one minute. Add the peppers and squash and continue to saute until everything is soft but not soggy. Stir in the red pepper, oregano, and salt and pepper to taste. Add the tomatoes and cook for 3-4 minutes until they start to release juice. Add the balsamic vinegar and cook down a little until things start to look saucy.  Taste to adjust the seasoning. Just before serving, add the spinach and basil. Mix the sauce together with the pasta in a big bowl. Top with feta

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