When the weather is sweltering, pasta served at cool room temperature can be wonderful.
The cool-not-cold pasta takes a cue from Sicily, a riff on pasta alla Norma. Make it now, while the tomatoes are ripe and sweet and shiny eggplants are coming to market. Instead of cooking them together in a sauce, I decided to cook them separately and then gently tossed them with just-cooked ziti. More like a vegetable salad than a pasta, it tastes best a couple of hours after it has been prepared. For something simpler, here is how my Sicilian friend Angelo makes what he calls pasta salad: chop tomatoes, garlic and anchovies; add capers and olive oil; cook the pasta and mix them together. Warm pasta, cold sauce.
Throughout Asia, cold noodles are just one category of the scads of noodle dishes possible. Both Japanese and Korean cuisines feature buckwheat noodles served cold, sometimes in an ice-cold broth. It would be fair to say that the Japanese renditions are subtler, while Korean buckwheat noodles have more of a kick, often delivered with a little spicy kimchee.
For my version of this simple noodle salad, I made a sort of sweet-salty-bitter dressing with red miso, a generous pinch of cayenne, grated ginger, grated radish and lime. It’s kicky but not off-the-charts spicy (though feel free to up the hot pepper quotient — I usually do). The chewy brown buckwheat noodles go into a bowl. Slivers of daikon, red radish and radish sprouts follow. The nutty (yet nut-free) sauce is spooned over, chased with a squeeze of lime. Grab a fork or a pair of chopsticks.
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I envisioned a Middle Eastern cold pasta dish, and large pearled couscous, sometimes called Israeli couscous, seemed to be the right vehicle. It’s soft on the tongue but sturdy enough to support a few vegetables. In specialty shops, you can also find maftoul, m’hamsa or mograbiah, all the size of small lentils but equally delicious and interchangeable.
I boiled the pearled couscous until al dente and napped it with a spicy lemony dressing fragrant with toasted cumin. At the market, I had found the tiniest new potatoes to roast, and the first Romano beans and cherry tomatoes. These would all go into my colorful bowl, topped with torn mint leaves.
With any of these cool pasta dishes, the idea is to enjoy them outdoors — on the rooftop, veranda, terrace, park bench or beach — while trying to catch a breeze.
BUCKWHEAT NOODLES WITH GINGER AND MISO
3 tablespoons red miso
1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
1 2-inch piece ginger, finely grated
2 teaspoons sugar
1/8 teaspoon cayenne
2 tablespoons mirin
1 tablespoon soy sauce
2 tablespoons lime juice, plus lime wedges for serving
1 3-inch piece daikon radish, coarsely grated
8 ounces buckwheat noodles
6 small red radishes, thinly sliced
¼ cup thinly sliced cucumber
¼ cup slivered scallions
¼ cup radish sprouts, trimmed
A few shiso leaves, for garnish
1. In a small bowl, combine miso, sesame oil, ginger, sugar, cayenne, mirin, soy sauce and lime juice. Stir in daikon radish. Set aside.
2. Boil the noodles in abundantly salted water until cooked but still firm. Drain and rinse well with cold water. Blot dry.
3. Divide noodles among four small bowls. Top with radish, cucumber, scallions and radish sprouts. Sprinkle lightly with salt. Garnish with torn or chopped shiso leaves. Serve dressing and lime wedges on the side.
SPICY PEARL COUSCOUS SALAD
2 tablespoons lemon juice, more to taste, plus zest of 1 lemon
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon turmeric
¼ teaspoon cayenne
1 red Fresno chili, finely chopped
¼ teaspoon caraway seeds, toasted and ground
½ teaspoon cumin seeds, toasted and ground
Pinch of ground cinnamon
¼ cup olive oil
1 pound very small new potatoes, halved
2 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and pepper
2 sweet bell peppers
½ pound Romano beans or green beans, cut in 1-inch pieces
1 pound pearl couscous
½ pound cherry tomatoes, halved
Small bunch mint, cilantro or parsley, for garnish
1. Make the dressing: In a small bowl, stir together lemon juice, lemon zest, salt, turmeric, cayenne, chili, caraway, cumin and cinnamon. Whisk in olive oil. Set aside.
2. Heat oven to 400 degrees. Put halved potatoes on a baking sheet and drizzle with 2 tablespoons olive oil. Season well with salt and pepper and roast cut side down until tender, about 15 minutes.
3. Roast bell peppers whole under broiler, over a gas burner or over hot coals until skins are blackened and blistered, three to four minutes. Set aside to cool. Using a paring knife, split peppers lengthwise and scrape away seeds and charred skin (do not rinse). Cut into ½-inch strips.
4. Drop beans into salted boiling water and cook for two minutes. Drain; rinse with cool water.
5. Meanwhile, boil couscous in abundantly salted water until al dente, about 10 minutes, then drain. Rinse with cold water; drain again. Blot dry.
6. Assemble the salad: Put couscous in a shallow salad bowl. Add roasted peppers, cherry tomatoes and beans and season with salt and pepper. Add dressing and toss well to coat. Add potatoes and toss again. Taste and adjust for salt and lemon. Garnish with mint, cilantro or parsley leaves.
COOL ZITI WITH EGGPLANT AND TOMATOES
Serves 4 to 6
2 pounds ripe tomatoes, cut in wedges
Salt and pepper
2 or 3 garlic cloves, minced
½ teaspoon peperoncino (hot red pepper flakes)
2 teaspoons capers, rinsed and roughly chopped
2 medium eggplants, about 1 pound
12 ounces ziti or other short pasta
¼ pound ricotta salata or mild feta, at room temperature
1 small bunch basil, for garnish
1. Heat broiler. Put tomato wedges in a shallow baking dish in one layer. Drizzle with 3 tablespoons olive oil and season generously with salt and pepper. Broil tomatoes about 2 inches from heat until softened and lightly charred, 10 to 15 minutes. Set aside until cool, and then add garlic, peperoncino and capers. Stir gently to distribute.
2. Slice eggplant into long strips about ¼-inch thick. Paint both sides of eggplant strips with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Cook eggplant strips on a stovetop grill, in a cast-iron pan or over hot coals, about two minutes per side. Cut into 1-inch pieces. Set aside.
3. Boil the pasta in abundantly salted water until al dente, then drain and rinse briefly. Blot dry and put in a wide serving bowl. Add tomato mixture and eggplant. Toss gently to distribute. Taste for salt and hot pepper and adjust.
4. Crumble cheese over top. Drizzle with a little more oil and garnish with torn basil leaves.