Pasta is an anytime food. Any mood, any season, it’s usually a good idea. But babysitting a bubbling pot of sauce in the summer heat? Not so much. The season’s sun-ripened produce lends itself well to no-cook pasta sauces — fresh, bright and ready in the time it takes to boil pasta. And because the sauces are only heated from being tossed with hot noodles and pasta water, any vegetables stay crisp, while the cheese melts.
What You’ll Need
Vegetables and soft herbs: Use anything that’s good raw or slightly softened (tomatoes, corn, snap peas), and chop them into small pieces. Consider parsley, cilantro or basil, or any other herb with tender leaves.
Salt: Since you won’t be simmering the sauce for a long time, you need salt to intensify flavors. Taste and salt as you go. If you’ve added plenty and the sauce still doesn’t pop, add a little granulated sugar or an acid, like lemon juice or vinegar.
Fat: Olive oil or butter (or a combination) emulsify with pasta water to create a rich, silky sauce. Use an olive oil that tastes good out of the bottle: Since it won’t be heated, you’ll taste it in the sauce. For a butter-based sauce, use tablespoon-size pieces of cold butter, which prevents the sauce from becoming too greasy.
Cheese and yogurt (optional): Adding dairy is nice, but not essential. Cubes of mozzarella provide gooey surprises throughout the pasta, and yogurt, crème fraîche, mascarpone, ricotta and goat cheese melt into a creamy sauce. And adding a little Parmesan on top or stirred into the sauce like cacio e pepe is always a good idea.
10 Simple Sauces to Start
Marinated Tomato: In a large bowl, salt halved cherry tomatoes or coarsely chopped beefsteak tomatoes. Mix with olive oil, crushed garlic and whole basil sprigs, and let sit for as long as you can stand it: until your pasta’s ready, a couple of hours at room temperature or in the fridge overnight. Bring to room temperature.
Blanched and Raw Peas With Mozzarella: Boil your pasta according to package instructions. In the last few minutes of cooking, toss in thinly sliced snap peas and frozen or fresh shelled peas with the pasta. Meanwhile, in a large bowl, combine more raw, thinly sliced snap peas, salt, pepper, olive oil, cubes of room-temperature mozzarella and crushed Calabrian chile or red-pepper flakes. Garnish the finished dish with fresh herbs.
Corn and Smoked Paprika Butter: Grate corn on the large holes of a box grater into a large bowl. (You get kernels and a lot of starchy liquid this way.) Add pats of butter, salt and pepper, smoked paprika, lemon or lime zest, and chives or scallions. Add lemon or lime juice to taste.
Tomato Butter: Halve large, ripe tomatoes through their bellies and discard seeds and juice. Using the large holes of a box grater, grate the fruit into a large bowl until you reach the skin. (Discard the skin.) Add salt, butter and a little red wine or sherry vinegar.
Yogurt With Feta and Green Olives: In a large bowl, mash crumbled feta and Greek yogurt with a fork. Season with salt and pepper. If it’s too thick, add olive oil to thin, and toss in halved, pitted green olives, such as Castelvetrano, Picholine or Cerignola, and fresh dill or mint.
Goat Cheese and Zucchini: Grate zucchini on the large holes of a box grater. Transfer to a colander, and add salt. Let the juices drain while the pasta cooks. In a large bowl, stir together the zucchini and goat cheese. Sprinkle with za’atar, if desired. (For a more cooked zucchini option, you can drain the pasta over the zucchini in the colander.)
Ricotta and Lemon: Follow this recipe.
Spicy Pesto: Make pesto, but swap the basil for arugula and add finely chopped jalapeño or serrano chile.
Salami and Black Pepper: Combine thin slices of salami or another cured meat in olive oil, lemon zest, grated garlic and lots of coarsely ground black pepper. Add finely grated pecorino or Parmesan and lemon juice, and toss with the pasta as directed below.
Crushed Walnut and Anchovy: Use a food processor or mortar and pestle to crush toasted walnuts, garlic and anchovy fillets into pieces no bigger than a green lentil. (It’s good to have some variation in size.) Combine with olive oil or butter, finely grated Parmesan and lemon zest. Add lemon juice to taste.
Assembling the Pasta
1. Bring a big pot of well-salted water to a boil over high heat. Cook pasta according to package instructions. Meanwhile, combine the sauce ingredients in a big bowl.
2. When the pasta’s nearly al dente, reserve 2 cups of pasta water and drain the pasta. Vigorously stir a little of the pasta water into the sauce a little at a time until the sauce comes together. (You won’t need all of the water at this point.)
3. Add the pasta to the bowl and stir vigorously, adding pasta water as needed until the sauce coats the noodles. If it’s not as creamy as you like, add a few tablespoons of cold butter and stir until melted.