Whenever I saunter into a local farmer’s market in summer, aka tomato season, not filling up my bag with every possible variety of tomato seems almost sacrilegious. Before I know it, my fridge is stuffed with all hues and sizes of red, and I have no choice but to incorporate tomato into every dish I make. Then begins an endless saga of every possible Caprese-salad riff off, from Caprese sandwiches to mini Caprese bites. But after a few dozen tomato salads, I’m out of inspiration and also craving for something carby and meaty, but also summery and refreshingly light. And the dish that I turn to – one that satisfies this challenging permutation of cravings – is penne with prosciutto, cherry tomatoes, and cucumber.
This healthy-ish pasta is zingy, bright, and delightfully summery with delicate hints of umami. The mildly meaty, salty flavor of prosciutto, does not overpower but rather complements the heady tartness of cherry tomatoes, sweet unextravagant earthiness of zucchini, and creamy nuttiness of parmesan, all combined with the tender chewiness of penne.
This summer pasta recipe substitutes butter-rich sauce – the star of any winter pasta – with a few tablespoons of pasta water. Pasta water adds a thick starchy body to the dish which helps the different flavors coating the bottom of the pan emulsify into a sauce-like texture and coat the pasta, to infuse all those flavors into the superabsorbent penne.
Making Penne with Prosciutto, Cherry Tomatoes, and Cucumber
Cook the Pasta:
Bring 4 quarts of well-salted water to a boil over medium-high heat. Stir penne into it. Cook for 8 to 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, or until pasta is cooked al dente. Once cooked, drain the pasta and keep aside.
Cook Proscuitto with Cherry Tomatoes and Cucumber:
Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add prosciutto and saute for 2 to 3 minutes, or until lightly crisp. Add garlic, onion, and red chili flakes. Mix and cook for another 2 to 3 minutes, or until onion is soft. Then add zucchini, cherry tomatoes. Season with salt and pepper and cook for 2 more minutes.
Mix Cooked Penne with Prosciutto, Cherry Tomatoes, and Zucchini:
Remove prosciutto, cherry tomato, and zucchini mix off the heat. Add penne and mix gently until well combined. Top off with fresh parsley and a generous grating of parmesan, and serve!
½ lb. penne pasta
½ an onion, finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 tsp freshly ground black peppercorns
1 tsp salt
1 tsp crushed red chili flakes
5-6 sprigs of parsley
½ cup chopped prosciutto
1 zucchini, finely diced
2 cups of cherry tomatoes, halved
½ cup parmesan cheese, grated
2 tbsp olive oil
- Bring well-salted water to a boil, in a deep-bottomed pot. Add penne and cook the pasta al dente.
- Heat oil in a skillet over medium heat, add prosciutto and sauté till it begins to change color. Add chopped onions, garlic, and chili powder, mix and cook for 2 to 3 minutes till onion is softened.
- Add zucchini, cherry tomatoes, salt, and pepper. Combine everything together well and cook for another 2 minutes.
- Mix in cooked penne. Top off with some grated parmesan and parsley and serve!