Most weeks I make a pasta dish one night for dinner - they are one of the all time great stand by meals. Usually quick and endlessly variable they can also be easy as you like and have the added bonus that nearly everyone, apart from the Atkins adherents, will like it. Of all those qualities the most attractive for me is the versatility. You can have pasta one night a week for a year without the need to repeat yourself and stay seasonal and appropriate to whatever the weather is throwing at you on any particular day. It is relatively cheap as well as wholesome and filling and comes in a gazillion different shapes which work with different dishes. It goes well with meat and dairy and vegetables and can be served hot, cold or at room temperature. Love the stuff.
Last week I bought some ricotta thinking of making a light pasta bake type thing only to find that the whole of the week was properly hot and not at all conducive to the switching on of ovens - or anything else that might generate heat. So I crossed my fingers and hoped for the best that ricotta would stay fresh in its plastic bag in the fridge. I read somewhere it's possible to freeze it but I was doubtful and the consensus on a bbc forum was it was probably a worse idea to freeze/thaw than chance it not lasting till Tuesday. Was absolutely fine.
I was looking to make a summer pasta that was a reasonably substantial meal without being too heavy in the way that a mornay would be. I whipped the ricotta with eggs and grated nutmeg for the sauce element and then just layered it with crisp cooked vegetables and conchiglie and some fresh Parmesan then popped it in the oven. Came out pretty as a picture and was a pleasure to eat hot for dinner and cold for lunch next day.
Summer Vegetable Pasta
350g conchiglie or similar pasta shells
50g unsalted butter
4 tbspns olive oil
3 thinnish leek, sliced about half a centimetre thick
Medium sized head of broccoli, cut into small florettes
2 courgettes in 1/2 cm slices then halved to make semi circles
100g frozen peas
3 cloves garlic finely chopped
400g ricotta cheese
1/2 tspn freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon salt
freshly ground black pepper
1 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
Extra olive oil, for drizzling
Cook pasta until just al dente in a large pan of boiling salted water then drain into a colander.
Melt butter with the olive oil over medium-low to medium heat and add the garlic and leeks. Cook gently for about fiftenn minutes till the leeks are translucent. Sprinkle in a little salt. Add the broccoli and cook for a couple of minutes then add the courgette and cook for a minute. Add the frozen peas, stir together, then turn off the heat. Set aside.
In a separate bowl, mix the ricotta, eggs, nutmeg, salt, and pepper until well combined.
To assemble, butter a 9 x 13-inch baking dish.
Add half the pasta, then dollop on about 1/3 cup of the ricotta mixture.
Sprinkle 1/3 of the Parmesan over the ricotta, then 1/2 the cooked vegetables.
Repeat with the rest of the pasta, the rest of the ricotta, and another 1/3 of the Parmesan.
Finish with the rest of the vegetables and the last of the Parmesan. Drizzle with a couple of tablespoons olive oil, then bake for 35 minutes on gas 4/350F till hot through.
So there is twenty minutes active cooking time and a little while in the oven and dinner is ready! Could be served with bread and salad should you so desire but mighty fine with nothing more than a glass of wine and lovely company.