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Super simple supper: Summer-Fresh Bowtie Pasta

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Hot summer weekend afternoons are meant for lounging with friends on a pontoon boat floating down the Mississippi River. Preferably with a cooler full of ice and beverages. It's best followed with a dinner made by friends.

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Our last lazy cruise was followed by a bowtie pasta dish at a table for four in a cozy screened porch. My boating friend pulled the dinner together in no time. While the pasta pot was bubbling, she mixed a zesty vinaigrette, chopped cherry tomatoes, minced red onion and sliced fresh basil, then tossed everything together in a big pasta bowl. Done. In minutes. No sweat. She made it look so easy.

This time of year, home gardens are ripe with rosy red tomatoes and fragrant basil. Add some minced garlic to those showstoppers of summer and the results are nothing short of miraculous. With these ingredients at hand, even the least experienced cook can make something delicious on a hot summer's day. Every cook will appreciate the no-fuss ease of preparing Summer-Fresh Bowtie Pasta.

Basil, a nutritious leafy green, woos us with its beauty and flavor and is probably the most likeable of all herbs. In the past, I've never had much luck trying to grow basil. This year I planted Greek Columnar basil in a 12-inch pot and set it in the flower garden. It's growing like crazy and keeping me supplied with its complex flavor, blending traditional basil taste with spicy overtones of cinnamon, allspice and cloves.

Tomato's sweet and sour flesh loves the spicy flavor of fresh basil. Use cherry or grape tomatoes or chop up a couple of large ones to add to the pasta bowl. Their leafy, fruity and floral flavor that seems sweet, salty and sour at the same time, is enhanced with garlic and red onion in Summer-Fresh Bowtie Pasta.

I made a few slight changes to the recipe my friend sent to me for the after-boating pasta meal. It takes just one hot burner to cook the pasta for this dish and one big bowl to mix a few fresh ingredients together with the hot pasta. Serve it with some good chewy bread and olive oil for dipping. If you need more to round out the meal, add grilled shrimp or chicken. Leftover Summer-Fresh Bowtie Pasta can become a chilled salad for lunch the next day.

Summer-Fresh Bowtie Pasta is a natural choice for a light and fresh meal during the hot days of summer. I won't be waiting for my next cruise down the river to make this dish. Fresh tomato and basil season is way too short. Eat it while you can.

Summer-Fresh Bowtie Pasta

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons red wine vinegar

1 tablespoon minced garlic

3/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

8 ounces uncooked bowtie pasta

1 pint cherry or grape tomatoes, halved or quartered, depending on size of tomatoes

1/4 cup minced red onion

1/2 cup fresh basil leaves

Measure olive oil, vinegar, garlic, salt and pepper into a jar no smaller than half pint. Shake until the mixture is well blended. Set aside. You can also whisk the mixture together in a small bowl.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add bowtie pasta and cook until al dente, or firm to the bite. It should take about 8 to10 minutes. Taste bowtie pasta to determine doneness.

Drain the pasta but do not rinse. Dump the hot pasta into a large bowl. Pour olive oil mixture over the pasta and toss to coat. Add tomatoes and red onion. With your clean hands, tear the basil and add to pasta bowl. Toss well. Serve immediately. Makes 4 servings.

Tips from the cook

--Tearing fresh basil by hand will help prevent the leaves from turning dark, which is what happens when basil is cut with a knife.

--Use an olive oil with lovely flavor and the freshest tomatoes and basil you can find for this pasta dish. With such few ingredients, quality is of utmost importance for the best flavor.

--Offer a chunk of fresh Parmesan and a hand grater at the table for diners who want cheese over their pasta. Toasted pine nuts are a good pasta sprinkle, too.

--It's nice to serve Summer-Fresh Bowtie Pasta in warmed bowls.

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