Good to Go 

Sometimes gourmet take-out is the best option for summertime dinner.

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But even if you have a kitchen to cook in, usually the idea of adding to the house the kind of heat created by a hot meal — even with the best of air conditioning — is the last thing you want to do in July. What you (and I) want is a meal that isn't pizza and isn't Chinese but rather is real food delivered promptly at 6:30 p.m. Delivery is a little tricky, but if you're willing to make a stop on the way, there are several gourmet take-away places around town whose sole reason for existing is to make life easier.

Cooking pasta is the first thing to go in my house when the temperature rises outside, but there's something inherently cool about digging into a big plate of noodles, sauce and cheese when everyone else around you poolside is making do with the Colonel. Some contraband red in a plastic cup and you can almost imagine you're in Tuscany if you squint.

Despite the less than welcoming attitude at 8 « on Strawberry St., you can get a mean plate of pasta that comes packaged hot and fresh in familiar takeout containers. Along with the creamy, well-cheesed carbonara spaghetti studded with fat cubes of pancetta, you get an amazing garlic toast sprinkled with not only the usual suspects, but also with a judicious shake of hot pepper flakes. The pasta is the thick kind of spaghetti from a box I usually avoid, but at 8 «, it's cooked perfectly al dente. Baked rigatoni sports giant hollow pasta tubes layered with fresh basil, ricotta, mozzarella and a meat sauce chunked with tomato. Salads aren't included, but you can order an arugula salad simply dressed with good olive oil, fresh black pepper and wide shavings of aged Parmesan easily feeds two. Tiramisu, with extra lashings of coffee liqueur and espresso, is a logical finish.

Across the river, another kind of pasta can be found at Seven Hills Market. Here the pasta itself is a fresh linguine (from Mainly Pasta), and although it has a tendency to clump into a sticky mass if you let it sit too long, just eat it right away and stop your complaining. When it's tossed with a rich Alfredo sauce sharp with Parmesan — not heavy, simply creamy and light — you won't notice a little clumping anyway. The already good nutty pesto and fresh pasta is immeasurably improved when such roasted vegetables as asparagus, squash and tomatoes are added to the bite of the dominant basil. Side salads of lovely dark-green romaine with a simple balsamic vinaigrette round out the meal. Although the bread isn't worth mentioning, the tart key lime and airy peanut butter pies will produce sighs all around.

Mainly Pasta is a little more labor-intensive, but its $26 dinner-for-two special can't be beat. A salad (Caesar or garden veggie) starts off the meal, and then it's a choice of two different entrees among a selection of 10. The grilled veggie lasagna layers smoky squash, zucchini, eggplant and spinach between impossibly thin sheets of fresh pasta with ricotta, mozzarella and marinara. Three enormous beef-and-pork meatballs in a spicy marinara (I ordered extra of this excellent sauce on the side, and they threw it in for free) come with a bag of fresh spaghetti that has to be thrown in boiling water for a minute max, but cooking at home avoids the pesky clumping problem. The entrees have to be heated in a microwave as well, which is kind of a drag but manageable at just three or four minutes. I'm not impressed with the bread or the tiramisu, but I love the tart-sweet chocolate chip cannoli.

Of course, none of this quite turns the neighborhood pool into Italy's Lake Como, but it gets you out of the kitchen and to a far, far more relaxing place. It's a summertime memory in the making, and you almost didn't have to do a thing. S

401 Strawberry St.
Daily, 11 a.m.-10 p.m.

Seven Hills Market
3516 Forest Hill Ave.
Monday-Saturday, 11:30 a.m.-9 p.m.
Sunday, 4-9 p.m.

Mainly Pasta
2227 W. Main St.
11 a.m.-7 p.m.
Saturday, 11 a.m.-5 p.m.

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