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Recipe: It’s time to move pasta beyond the side salad this summer

This June 15, 2015 photo shows penne pasta with tomatoes, zucchini and creme fraiche in Concord, N.H., a weeknight-friendly meal that is big on flavor, but not on labor. (AP Photo/Matthew Mead)

This June 15, 2015 photo shows penne pasta with tomatoes, zucchini and creme fraiche in Concord, N.H., a weeknight-friendly meal that is big on flavor, but not on labor. (AP Photo/Matthew Mead)

By J.M. Hirsch, AP Food Editor

Aside from the occasional pasta salad, America’s favorite carb often takes a vacation during summer. It’s probably because we tend to associate it with more winter-friendly heavy and hot sauces.

This June 15, 2015 photo shows penne pasta with tomatoes, zucchini and creme fraiche in Concord, N.H., a weeknight-friendly meal that is big on flavor, but not on labor. (AP Photo/Matthew Mead)

This June 15, 2015 photo shows penne pasta with tomatoes, zucchini and creme fraiche in Concord, N.H., a weeknight-friendly meal that is big on flavor, but not on labor. (AP Photo/Matthew Mead)

But pasta doesn’t have to be relegated to the salad bar when the heat is on, particularly since it’s still one of the fastest and easiest ways to get dinner on the table. And that’s particularly important on nights you’d rather be enjoying the great outdoors more than laboring at the stove. Another perk — pasta is a great way to take advantage of summer’s produce bounty.

To make the point, I created this fast and flavorful pasta dinner that tosses whole-wheat penne with cooling diced tomatoes and zucchini, a mess of fresh basil and a dollop of creme fraiche to tie it all together. Of course, feel free to substitute whatever fresh veggies inspire you. But since you’re serving them raw, be sure to finely chop them.

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PENNE WITH TOMATOES, ZUCCHINI AND CREME FRAICHE

This June 15, 2015 photo shows penne pasta with tomatoes, zucchini and creme fraiche in Concord, N.H., a weeknight-friendly meal that is big on flavor, but not on labor. (AP Photo/Matthew Mead)

This June 15, 2015 photo shows penne pasta with tomatoes, zucchini and creme fraiche in Concord, N.H., a weeknight-friendly meal that is big on flavor, but not on labor. (AP Photo/Matthew Mead)

Start to finish: 25 minutes

Servings: 4

2 large slicing tomatoes, cored and finely chopped

2 medium zucchini, finely chopped

Kosher salt

12 ounces whole-wheat penne pasta

8-ounce container creme fraiche

2 cloves garlic, minced

Zest and juice of 1 lemon

Ground black pepper

Handful torn fresh basil

In a colander set over the sink or a large bowl, toss the tomatoes and zucchini with about 1 teaspoon of salt. Set aside to drain for 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook according to package directions until just tender. Drain, then return to the pot.

While the pasta cooks, prepare the creme fraiche. In a small bowl, mix together the creme fraiche, garlic and lemon zest. Season with salt and pepper. Set aside.

Once the tomatoes and zucchini have drained for 15 minutes, gently tap the colander in the sink to shake off any excess liquid. Add the vegetables to the pasta, tossing well. Add the lemon juice, taste, then season with salt and pepper. Divide the pasta and vegetables between 4 serving bowls. Top each serving with a quarter of the creme fraiche mixture, then sprinkle with basil.

Nutrition information per serving: 580 calories; 230 calories from fat (40 percent of total calories); 25 g fat (14 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 80 mg cholesterol; 530 mg sodium; 73 g carbohydrate; 10 g fiber; 10 g sugar; 15 g protein.

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