When the weather warms up, garden-fresh vegetables and whole-grain products begin to sound especially appealing. "Summer is a great time to get into high-fiber foods," says Cheryl Hyman, nutrition consultant and spokesperson for the California Dietetic Assn. "Abundance makes for a lot of choices, and the pairing of vegetables with foods such as whole-wheat pasta is a lot more appetizing than a bowl of oat bran."
Inspired by classic Italian pasta primavera , the dish shown here combines slivers of zucchini, onion and yellow peppers with whole-wheat spaghetti. "Traditional Italian food is very health conscious," adds Nicholas, executive chef of Pane Caldo in West Hollywood. "More and more, people order dishes with no oil, no butter. Upon request, we'll reduce the butter and leave out the salt, using herbs and a good olive oil as a substitute," he continues. Low in fat and high in carbohydrates, this pasta combination pairs nicely with a clean, intensely flavored fresh pea-and-watercress soup drizzled with a little tasty--but, alas, cholesterol-rich--sour cream.
ZUCCHINI AND ONION WITH WHOLE-WHEAT PASTA
1 1/2 pounds zucchini, seeded
1/4 cup olive oil
2 medium red onions, halved and thinly sliced
1 yellow pepper, seeded and thinly sliced
1/4 cup wine vinegar
2 tablespoons water
6 whole cloves
1/4 teaspoon fennel seeds
1 teaspoon fresh oregano leaves
1/2 cup fresh basil leaves
1 pound whole-wheat spaghetti
Freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Cut zucchini into 1/4-inch-thick strips 2 to 3 inches long. Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in skillet and saute zucchini over medium-low heat until tender but still crisp. If necessary, add more oil to prevent burning. Transfer zucchini and remaining oil in pan to shallow baking dish.
Add olive oil to skillet, add onions and yellow pepper strips and cook, stirring, over medium heat until softened, about 3 minutes. Add onions and their juices and yellow pepper strips to zucchini, tossing lightly to mix.
In small saucepan, combine vinegar, water, cloves and fennel seeds. Bring to boil, reduce heat and simmer 3 minutes. Pour over zucchini and onion mixture. Add oregano and basil leaves, cover tightly and marinate at least 1 hour.
Just before serving, cook pasta in boiling salted water until tender. Drain and turn into greased serving dish. Drain zucchini and onions, reserving marinade. Add zucchini mixture to pasta and toss gently. Add reserved marinade to taste and season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve grated Parmesan over each portion. Makes 4 to 5 servings.
NOTE: For variety, different vegetables may be substituted for the zucchini and yellow pepper. Some suggestions are julienned yellow squash, red and green pepper strips, julienned carrot.
FRESH PEA SOUP
1 cup sliced green onions, green part only
2 tablespoons butter or margarine
2 tablespoons flour
1 quart clear chicken broth
1 small potato, peeled and diced
3 cups fresh shelled peas or 2 (10-ounce) packages frozen peas
1 cup watercress leaves, not packed
Salt, white pepper
1/4 to 1/2 cup sour cream or creme fraiche, if desired
Additional watercress sprigs for garnish
Saute green onions in butter until limp and tender, about 2 minutes in heavy saucepan. Gradually add flour and cook, stirring, for about 1 minute. Add broth, cooking over medium heat until mixture thickens slightly. Add potato, peas and watercress, cover and simmer for 20 minutes or until vegetables are tender.
Remove from heat and puree until smooth in blender container in several batches. Return to pan, heat through and season to taste with salt and white pepper. (If soup is too thick, additional chicken broth may be added to thin slightly.) To serve, drizzle sour cream or creme fraiche in each bowl. Makes about 6 servings.
Photographed by Myron Beck; produced by Robin Tucker; food styling: Stephanie Puddy; tableware: Tesoro, Los Angeles