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As summer transitions to fall, quick! Boil water

If there’s a season for pasta, this is surely it

Winter is for soups and stews. Spring is for salad. Summer is for anything with tomatoes in it. But fall, fall is for pasta.

Sure, you can eat pasta every time of year (and trust me, I do ... when I’m not eating pizza). But especially right now—when the days are just starting to turn cooler, and farmers bring the last of their summer crops to market with the first of their crisp greens and root vegetables—is perfect for easy dishes that start with some kind of noodle.

Right now at market, we’re seeing early fall veggies like radishes, sweet salad turnips, and lettuces coming in. Figs, muscadines, field peas, and green beans are fading. Okra, eggplant, and winter squash still seem to be going strong.

It’s hard for me to resist cooking pasta for every meal. Pasta is the logical solution for the random combinations of produce that collect in my fridge right now. It's the Universal Carb that pulls it all together. Red peppers and winter squash? Sounds perfect with whole wheat penne. Arugula and green beans—wouldn’t that be great with some linguine? Cabbage and radishes? OK, I’m sautéing those with onions and cumin, and tossing with toasted couscous. Maybe I’ll add some golden raisins.

You don't really need a recipe. Just cook the veggies, cook the pasta, and toss together. Add some pesto or olive oil if you want. Add some cheese and/or herbs if you want. Done.

Just in case you need more prompting, here are a couple of recipes to get you started.

Penne with Grilled Butternut Squash and Red Pepper
Adapted from The Vegetarian Grill by Andrea Chesman

Serves 4

1 red bell pepper
1 medium butternut squash (about 1 pound)
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon chopped fresh sage
1 pound penne
1/3 cup dry white wine
1 cup crème fraiche
½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
Salt and black pepper

On the stove, start a large pot of salted water to boil. Preheat the grill. Add the bell pepper to the grill and char on all sides. Set aside until cool enough to handle, then rub off charred skin, remove stem and seeds, and slice into strips. Set aside.

Meanwhile, peel the squash, cut in half horizontally, remove the fibers and seeds, and cut into ½-inch cubes. Steam over boiling water until barely fork-tender, about 7 minutes. Transfer to a mixing bowl and toss with the olive oil, garlic, sage and ¼ teaspoon salt. Grill on a lightly oiled vegetable grill rack until tender and grill-marked, about 8 minutes.

Cook the pasta al dente. Drain.

In a saucepan on the stove, bring the wine to a boil and boil for 1 minute. Add the crème fraiche, squash and red pepper. Stir in the pasta and Parmesan. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Spinach and Eggplant with Green Tomatoes and Feta
Adapted from “The Best 125 Meatless Pasta Dishes” by Mindy Toomay and Susann Geiskopf Hadler.

4 to 6 servings

1 large bunch fresh spinach
5 tablespoons olive oil, divided use
2 small globe eggplants, or 2 Japanese eggplants (about 1 ½ pounds), cut into uniform 1/2-inch pieces
½ teaspoon salt
2 small green tomatoes, chopped
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1/4 teaspoon fresh chopped rosemary
1 tablespoon drained capers
8 ounces feta cheese, cubed
2 tablespoons lemon juice
Salt and pepper to taste
12 ounces orzo

Bring a few cups of water to boil in your pasta pot. Wash the spinach, then add to the boiling water. Cook until it wilts, about 1 minute. Remove, shock in a bowl of ice-cold water, drain, the coarsely chop. Set aside.

Fill the pasta pot with a few quarts of water and return to boil. Add the orzo, cook until just tender, and drain. Set aside.

Meanwhile, in a large sauté pan, heat ¼ cup olive oil on medium-high heat. Add the eggplant and salt. Cook for 10 minutes, push to one side of the pan, and add the green tomato, garlic and rosemary. Cook until eggplant and green tomatoes are tender, about 5 minutes more. Add spinach and capers to warm, then turn off the heat. Stir in the drained orzo, feta, and lemon juice, and season to taste with pepper and more salt, if needed.