created at: 2013-06-26
Friday, June 21, was the summer solstice, which is the official start of summer and the longest day of the year. (And we’re not talking “long” in the “I’ve been in line at the RMV all morning—longest day ever” Facebook status kind of way.) Last Friday, the sun was out for 15 hours and 17 minutes. Now that’s a long day!

Some people celebrate this extended daylight with bonfires in their backyards or dance parties at Stonehenge, but I planned a much more relaxed observance. What better way to celebrate the first day of summer than a dish prepared outdoors and featuring some of the season’s best offerings?

Summer may have just officially started, but the area farmers markets and my herb garden have been in full effect for weeks. So I went out to both and gathered some summer staples: peppers, eggplant, zucchini and summer squash. Most vegetable pastas just mix together the two main components and drizzle some oil over them. Instead of an oil slick holding this dish together, I wanted vinaigrette that was well-balanced and bright (like the sun!). For that, I whipped up a dressing and punched up its flavor with the brightest ingredient I could think of: lemon. I also found that topping each serving bowl with a spoonful of ricotta cheese gave each bite a slightly sweet, smooth quality. Sounds like the perfect kick-off to summer to me!

Summer Vegetable Pasta with Lemon Vinaigrette

Serves 8

1 pound pasta of your choice
1 red pepper, stemmed, seeded and cut into flat planks
1 yellow pepper, stemmed, seeded and cut into flat planks
1 eggplant (about 1 pound), cut into ½-inch thick planks
1 medium zucchini, cut into ½-inch thick planks
1 medium summer squash, cut into ½-inch thick planks
1 small red onion, cut into ½-inch rounds
¼ cup minced sundried tomatoes
½ cup walnut pieces, toasted
2 tablespoons basil

1 small shallot, minced
1 teaspoon white vinegar
4 tablespoons lemon juice
1 teaspoon honey
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
½ cup olive oil
Ricotta cheese, for serving

1. Preheat grill to medium-high.

2. In heavy-bottomed pot, bring 4 quarts water to rolling boil. Add 1 tablespoon salt and bring back up to boil. Add pasta and cook until al dente. Drain, transfer to large mixing bowl, and stir in 2 teaspoons olive oil.

3. Meanwhile, brush one side of vegetables with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. When grill is hot, place vegetables seasoned-side down and cook until tender and well-browned, about 5 minutes. Brush top sides with oil, season with salt and pepper, and turn over. Grill until cooked through, about 3 minutes longer. Transfer to plate and set aside until cool enough to handle. (If red pepper skins have completely blackened, transfer to bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Allow to steam until skins are loose, at which point you can easily pull them off.)

4. Slice vegetables into ½-inch pieces or slices and stir into bowl with pasta. Stir in sundried tomatoes, walnuts and basil.

5. For the vinaigrette, whisk together shallot, vinegar, lemon juice, honey and mustard in a small bowl. Slowly drizzle in oil while whisking constantly. Season with salt and pepper.

6. Stir vinaigrette into pasta and vegetable mixture. Season with salt and pepper. To serve, spoon into serving bowl and top with spoonful of ricotta.

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