Make No-Cook Pasta Sauce From Basically Any Vegetable

Photo: Toa Heftiba, Unsplash

Noodles don't need a lot of stove time to taste good, which is why they're a no-fail standby. As much as I love cold peanut noodles, sometimes I crave a bowl of silky-sauced pasta laden with vegetables and cheese — without spending an hour simmering that sauce.

Because my work is greatly influenced by my desires, I've cracked the no-cook pasta sauce code and it's unbelievably easy. First, zest and juice one or two lemons into a big mixing bowl. (One lemon is plenty for 250g of dried pasta, but use two for 500g.) Add a healthy teaspoon of salt, a few pinches of white or brown sugar, a glug of olive oil and plenty of cracked black pepper; whisk with a fork to combine.

Add a grated clove of garlic and/or some finely-diced spring onion, white onion, or leeks and boom — you've just made a powerful marinade that will soften nearly any thinly-sliced veg in a few hours.

Now for the fun part: choosing the vegetables. Tomatoes are an obvious choice for a reason, but any vegetable you'd eat raw will be delicious. Shaved beetroot and carrots, fennel, cauliflower, cabbage, fresh corn and ribboned zucchini or squash would all work nicely.

Slice or chop your veggies as thinly as possible into shapes that mimic the shape of the pasta you're using. For example, when I make this with tomatoes, I usually use orecchiette and dice the tomatoes about the same size; for cauliflower, I shave individual florets into sheets and use pappardelle or big hollow noodles like paccheri.

Throw your sliced vegetables into the marinade, mix well and cover the bowl. Set aside at room temperature for a few hours or overnight; they won't quite soften enough in the fridge.

To finish the dish, boil your pasta in appropriately-salted water until fully cooked. Reserve a ladle or coffee mug of pasta water, then strain pasta and add to the marinated vegetables. Toss and stir aggressively — you want to give the hot noodles the chance to soften the veg a bit — and add a splash or two of pasta water if you like.

Let the pasta rest for a few minutes while you chop fresh herbs, grate or crumble some cheese, and/or toast some nuts, then add your accoutrements of choice and dig in.

There's a lot to love about this technique and I think its adaptability is by far the best. Once you've nailed the lemon-based marinade, try making one with balsamic vinegar, limes, or any other acid you really love. Whatever you choose, you'll end up with a punchy, satisfying dish full of contrasting textures and flavours — not bad for a last-minute summer meal.


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