By the astronomical calendar, summer is June twentieth through September twenty-first, but for me as a child summer always began Memorial Day Friday when weary teachers dismissed us itchy kids for three full months of summer vacation.
When we had watched enough TV, spent days at the pool, and generally played ourselves out, it was finally the Tuesday morning after Labor Day. With new lunch boxes and a fresh stash of school supplies in our satchels, we happily headed back. When school started up we ate a little differently too. Hearty dishes like macaroni and cheese, meatloaf, and chicken tortilla casserole replaced summer’s cold cuts and cookouts.
Times have changed. With all the extra vacations built in throughout the school year, summer break is shorter. Kids return to school early to mid-August. Still, weeknight dinner needs to be hearty and nutritious, and summery.
Here’s a meatless weeknight supper for a summer school night. It starts with pesto, made healthy with a big bunch of broccoli florets. So that nothing goes to waste, the peeled stems cook with the boiling pasta. The room temperature pesto cools down the freshly drained pasta for a dish that’s just the right temperature for these warm summer school nights.
- 1 large bunch broccoli, florets cut into bite-size pieces, stems peeled and sliced thin
- 3 garlic cloves
- ½ cup pine nuts or sliced almonds
- ½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
- ½ cup packed basil leaves
- Ground black pepper
- ½ cup finely grated Parmesan cheese, plus extra for grating
- 12 ounces penne
- Bring 2 quarts of salted water to boil in a large soup kettle. Add broccoli florets and cook until just tender and still bright green, adding garlic cloves the last minute, 4 to 5 minutes. Remove florets and garlic with a slotted spoon and transfer to a food processor along with nuts, oil, basil, and a sprinkling of salt and pepper; process to pesto texture, stir in ½ cup Parmesan cheese and set aside.
- Meanwhile, add penne to the boiling water. Using back-of-the-box times as a guide, cook partially covered, and at first stirring frequently to prevent sticking, until just tender, adding broccoli stems the last 5 minutes of cooking. Set colander over a large bowl and drain penne, reserving cooking liquid. Return penne to the pot.
- Add pesto to penne and toss, adding enough cooking liquid to make moist, saucy pasta. Taste and adjust seasonings, and serve, sprinkling with additional Parmesan.