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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

The dreamiest shrimp pasta anchors this summery menu

Marinated sweet peppers make a wonderfully zesty salad as a first course, and a shrimp-corn pasta topped with basil is an ideal follow-up.

By Dadiv Tanis

There’s an eye-popping display at the farmers’ market right now. If you feel like cooking, meander the overflowing vegetable stalls, grab anything and take it home for dinner. It’s bound to be at peak ripeness, juicy and sweet, no matter what it is. Peppers, tomatoes, corn, cucumbers, fresh herbs, stone fruit, berries, melons: We are gleefully overwhelmed with choice.

So here’s a menu that seizes the moment, without requiring much in the way of effort: a zesty salad of marinated sweet peppers, a main-course pasta that requires only a pot of boiling water and a skillet, and an icy, refreshing dessert. All are utterly simple and customizable, to be embellished according to whim or happenstance find.

Right now, sweet peppers of every color are ready, and far better than the bland year-round supermarket varieties. Look for Corno di Toro, a meaty Italian variety, in red or gold, or any local sweet peppers. Freshly picked, they have real flavor, and when thinly sliced and dressed with an assertive vinaigrette, they’re an ideal first course or antipasto component. Here, they’re built into a salad with capers, olives and anchovy that’s delicious as is, but could be upgraded to include halved cherry tomatoes, quality canned tuna or hard-cooked eggs.

For the main, most Italian cooks wouldn’t gravitate toward the particularly American combination of shrimp and corn when setting out to cook pasta. But the fact is, it’s lovely, light, summery and very tasty. It’s really only the corn that’s a nontraditional element.

For the shrimp, choose the best available. Wild shrimp from North Carolina or Georgia is a good bet, fresh or frozen, but beware of too-cheap-to-be-true frozen shrimp, which don’t taste as good and most likely are not as sustainably or ethically harvested as wild shrimp. Then, cook them gently, to keep them tender.

Aside from that, all you need is perfectly al dente pasta, extra-virgin olive oil, a bit of garlic, and a good pinch of red-pepper flakes. (You could also use Calabrian peppers in oil.) It’s the balance of spicy, salty and sweet that you’re after. You could make this pasta even more deluxe with lobster or scallops instead, if you’re feeling flush.

Finally, to cool the palate and refresh the spirit, especially on a sweltering day, the Italian cocktail sgroppino comes to mind. It’s a slushy, lemony concoction, recipes for which usually call for a scoop of lemon sorbet and a shot of vodka. In experimenting, I found that, when stirred together, sweetened slightly and frozen, prosecco and lemon juice yielded similar results. The ingredients never harden completely, so it eats a bit like a soft sorbet. Topped with raspberries, it looks festive, but you can add any berry you like. Then top it with a splash of prosecco for what becomes a half-frozen drinking dessert — because, at summer’s end, we can all use a celebratory meal.

Bell pepper salad with capers and olives

At summer’s end, sweet peppers of every color are ripe and ready, far better than the bland supermarket hot-house varieties available year-round. Thinly sliced and dressed with an assertive vinaigrette, these peppers make an ideal first course or antipasto.

Yield: 4 servings

Total time: 30 minutes

4 sweet bell peppers, in different colors

1 anchovy fillet, plus more for garnish

1 small garlic clove

2 tablespoons red wine vinegar

1 teaspoon capers, chopped, plus whole capers for garnish

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Salt and pepper

1 cup halved cherry tomatoes, lightly salted

1/2 cup green or black olives, such as Castelvetrano or Moroccan, pitted, if desired

Arugula, for garnish (optional)

Dried Italian oregano, for sprinkling (optional)

1. Cut peppers in half from top to bottom. Remove stems, seeds and veins, then slice peppers into strips about 1/8-inch wide.

2. Make a vinaigrette: Using a mortar and pestle, smash anchovy fillet and garlic into a paste. Transfer to a small bowl, and add red wine vinegar and chopped capers. Stir in olive oil and season vinaigrette with salt and pepper.

3. Put sliced peppers in a large bowl. Season with salt and pepper, and toss. Add vinaigrette and toss again. Leave for 10 minutes, then taste again and adjust seasoning. (The salad can sit for 15 to 20 minutes without suffering.)

4. Transfer to a serving platter. Garnish with cherry tomatoes, whole capers, olives and anchovy fillets. Surround with arugula, if using. Sprinkle with oregano, if using.

Shrimp pasta with corn and basil

This particularly American combination of flavors — shrimp and corn — is light, summery and very tasty, both sweet and slightly spicy. If you are feeling flush, you can make this pasta with lobster instead.

Yield: 4 servings

Total time: 30 minutes

Salt and pepper

1 pound pasta, such as linguine or spaghetti

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 small garlic clove, minced

1 1/2 pounds small shrimp, preferably wild, peeled and deveined, patted dry

Generous pinch of red-pepper flakes

2 cups tender corn kernels (from 2 or 3 ears)

2 tablespoons thinly sliced scallions

2 tablespoons roughly chopped basil, plus more basil leaves for garnish

1. Bring a pot of well-salted water to a boil over high heat. Cook pasta to al dente according to package instructions.

2. As pasta cooks, put oil in a large skillet over medium. Add garlic. Cook gently without coloring, about 1 minute.

3. Raise heat to medium-high and add shrimp. Season with salt, pepper and red-pepper flakes. Cook, stirring, until shrimp puff and turn pink, 1 to 2 minutes. Add corn and continue cooking until warmed through.

4. Drain cooked pasta and transfer to a warm serving bowl. Pour skillet contents over pasta and toss. Sprinkle with scallions and chopped basil. Garnish with basil leaves.

Prosecco lemon slush

Similar to the Italian cocktail sgroppino, which calls for a scoop of lemon sorbet, this recipe instead freezes prosecco and Meyer lemon juice for a fresher taste and a cooling dessert. The slushy concoction makes a refreshing finish to a meal, and, topped with raspberries (and more prosecco, if you wish), it looks festive, sort of like pink lemonade for grown-ups. Best of all, it stays fresh-tasting for several days, and never freezes completely solid.

Yield: 4 servings

Total time: 5 minutes, plus freezing

1 cup chilled prosecco, plus more to finish

1 cup Meyer (or other) lemon juice

1 teaspoon grated Meyer (or other) lemon zest

1/2 cup granulated sugar

Raspberries, for garnish

1. Stir together the prosecco, lemon juice, lemon zest and sugar in a small, chilled stainless-steel mixing bowl until the sugar dissolves. Place the bowl in the freezer, stirring every 15 minutes or so, until the mixture is semifrozen and slushy, about 2 to 3 hours. It will not freeze to rock hard, even if left overnight.

2. To serve, divide mixture across four wineglasses or small bowls. Top with berries. For the ultimate slushy consistency, add 2 tablespoons cold prosecco to each just before serving.

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