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Healthy Eating: Pasta dinner in the time it takes to boil water

| Tuesday, July 16, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
In this image taken on July 8, 2013, fast and fresh summer pasta is shown served on a plate in Concord, N.H. (AP Photo/Matthew Mead)

This is the perfect dish for a weeknight dinner in late summer, particularly when the kids start heading back to school and family schedules get crazy again. The recipe calls for just a handful of ingredients that can all be pulled together in the time it takes to boil water.

Tomatoes are the star of this show, as they should be this time of the year. A fresh local tomato at the height of ripeness is one of those things that make life worth living.

Indeed, they're so good as is they don't even need to be cooked. Obviously, we could cook them and turn them into a sauce, but we'd be kissing off some of their freshness and all of their crunch. Instead, we salt them, lightly, which intensifies their flavor and pulls out some of their liquid. This “tomato juice” becomes part of the sauce.

After the tomatoes have marinated in salt for 10 minutes, we season them with a little freshly grated lemon zest, a single tablespoon of extra-virgin olive oil (this is a dish that requires the really good stuff), and some freshly ground black pepper.

Next, it's time to reach for the goat cheese. Combined with hot pasta and a little of the pasta cooking liquid, the cheese melts into a richly creamy sauce without any additional thickener. And I'm talking about full-fat goat cheese, which is relatively lean even as it boasts big flavor.

I recommend using whole-wheat pasta in this recipe, but you're certainly welcome to explore some of the other whole-grain pastas that are now available. Kamut or spelt would be great. If you're gluten-intolerant, you can swap in quinoa, brown rice or buckwheat. (Its name notwithstanding, buckwheat isn't wheat, it's a grass.) Even so, you'll want to check the label to make sure the pasta is gluten-free.

I finished this dish with a liberal sprinkling of herbs. And truthfully, there's scarcely a fresh herb around that doesn't play nicely with tomatoes. Feel free to recruit any and all of your own favorites. You can't lose.

Chef Sara Moulton writes this column for the Associated Press.

Fast and Fresh Summer Pasta

Start to finish: 20 minutes

Water

Salt for the pasta water, plus Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

3 cups chopped fresh tomatoes (about 1-inch pieces)

1 teaspoon grated lemon zest

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

5 ounces fresh goat cheese, crumbled

8 ounces whole-wheat penne or fusilli pasta

1 cup mixed chopped fresh herbs (such as parsley, basil, oregano, mint, dill, chives, cilantro and tarragon)

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.

Meanwhile, in a large serving bowl toss the tomatoes with a few hefty pinches of salt and some black pepper. Let stand for 10 minutes, then add the lemon zest, oil and goat cheese and toss well.

Add the pasta to the boiling water, stir and cook according to package instructions until just al dente. Drain the pasta (it's fine to have some water still clinging to the pasta), then add it to the bowl. Toss until the cheese is melted. Taste and season with salt and pepper. Divide the pasta among 4 serving bowls, then sprinkle each portion with some of the herbs. Serve immediately.

Makes 4 servings.

Nutrition information per serving: 360 calories (110 calories from fat), 12 grams fat (6 grams saturated), 15 milligrams cholesterol, 17 grams protein, 51 grams carbohydrates, 7 grams dietary fiber, 390 milligrams sodium

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