December 07, 2009

An Excellent Eggplant Pasta


Ingredients:
1 3/4 to 2 lb cubed eggplant
28 oz canned crushed tomato
14 oz canned diced tomato
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 large cubanelle pepper, diced
1 red onion, diced
3 tablespoons minced oregano
3 tablespoons minced basil
1 tablespoon olive oil
freshly ground black pepper


1 lb pasta (I used cavatappi aka cellentani)
shredded fresh mozzarella (about 1/2 cup)
grated Parmesan (about 1/2 cup)

Directions:
Preheat oven to 350. Meanwhile, cook the pasta until almost al dente. Drain and set aside. Place the eggplant into colander. Sprinkle with salt. Allow to sit and drain for about 10 minutes then rinse it off thoroughly. In a large pot, heat the oil. Add the onion, pepper and garlic. Saute over low heat until the onion is soft. Add the eggplant and saute for 2 minutes. Add the tomatoes and spices. Cook until most of the liquid has evaporated, stirring occasionally, about 15 minutes. Stir into the pasta. Pour the mixture into a 13x9 baking dish. Sprinkle with a layer of mozzarella and Parmesan. Bake for 20 minutes or until hot and bubbly.

Note: It is important to salt the eggplant and make sure the liquid in the sauce is mostly evaporated or the dish will be unappetizingly wet and soggy; eggplant gives off a lot of liquid. Resist the temptation to skip either of these steps.

My thoughts:
This one of those "more than the sum of its parts" recipes. I thought it would be good (frankly, I was just happy to use up this enormous eggplant I had) but it turned out to be so great I had to share it with you. The simmering and baking of the eggplant made it velvety smooth and silky creamy without even a hint of bitterness or stringy texture. It was like a whole new vegetable. The cubanelle pepper added a fresh tasting yet subtle spice that worked well with the red onion and tomatoes. I am honestly contemplating never making a red sauce without cubanelle peppers again. Reducing the sauce really concentrated the flavor and took it to a level of deliciousness not always found in baked pasta dishes where people often look for meat or cheese for flavor. I didn't want to leave cheese completely behind but it only needed a light sprinkling to bump it over the top and towards pasta bake perfection.

After eating this I realized one could sort of think of it as a healthier version of eggplant Parmesan, the eggplant isn't breaded and fried but there is that wonderful mix of eggplant, sauce and cheese that is so comforting. This time of year, who couldn't use a cozy new dish to add to their repertoire?



17 comments:

  1. Ooooh, this looks amazing! I love eggplant with pasta, and this version sounds terrific...I will definitely be giving it a try!

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  2. Hmm.. maybe my husband would eat eggplant this way!

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  3. I love eggplant! I'll be making this for sure.

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  4. I live with an eggplant fiend. I will definitely have to give this a whirl.

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  5. I made this tonight. I have mixed feelings about it. Let me explain where we veered off from each other, and maybe, what could boost it for my tastes?

    I used a very fresh large eggplant from Whole Foods. I did not peel it. I did do the cubes about 1-inch. I thought aesthetically I might have liked the cubes smaller? But in truth. They were fine.

    I only used 3 garlic cloves and about half a medium red onion. I worried about "overwhelm," and if I had used what you recommended, it would have been better, I think.

    I also used fresh oregano and basil. De Ceco Cavatappi was my pasta. Great shape. It really held the sauce well.

    Instead of black pepper, I used a good shake of hot pepper flakes, but in truth? I couldn't even taste them.

    I used Whole Foods brands of the two tomato types.

    I did salt the eggplant. Nothing much came out in the way of water (due to the freshness of the veg? Dunno.) There was no bitterness. No stringiness. Not a lot of seeds. Firm cap. Good eggplant and ratio to pasta. I used the full 2 lb.

    There was no wet-sogginess issues during the saucemaking. The finished product had the appropriate texture.

    I walked out of Whole Foods without shredded mozzarella, but I did buy a small smoked one, and also had good quality parmesan and romano which I used, and I topped the casserole with slices of provolone. All of that worked well, and it gave it a nice smokey flavoring, but not overwhelming.

    I have to admit, I used a large cubanelle pepper and couldn't even taste it.

    Even with all of those tomatoes, the sauce was not overly acidic.

    It was comforting and cozy on a cold winter night, as you said.

    I guess my chief concern about it? I didn't use salt (and rarely do in cooking) because between the salt/rinse of the eggplant, and the salty cheeses,I thought "Won't need extra salt," yet...it needed something else (for me) to make it really zing...and I'm not sure what that "something" would be.

    I hate over-salting food. Sometimes I use hot sauce and give a dish a few shakes of it and it brings it up without "heating" it up. So maybe that.

    I felt I was very lucky in getting a really good quality eggplant. I prefer cooking with the smaller ones, but WF wasn't accommodating tonight. It had a really good, pure eggplant taste going.

    It is comfort food, and your photograph was good in setting a "cook me temptation" mode.

    I just wish I knew what to add to make it more in "my taste buds are happy range." Not more of anything you've listed. Those were perfect. But some "x" factor to bring it up one step, no more, for me....and I don't want the answer to be "salt."

    Anyway. I had fun trailing in your footsteps. I love your recipes. I've gotten raves over so many of them; most recently the blueberry muffins.

    Thank God you've got good taste and I know I can always find something appealing on here.

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  6. W. Cube
    I think that part of the problem was only using 1/2 onion and less garlic. Red onion is fairly mild tasting and when I've made the sauce with only 1/2 a red onion it was much more bland. The red onion also brought out the flavor of the pepper. As for the garlic, the flavor really mellowed after being cooked down and then baked so honestly, even 5 or 6 cloves would work. I do think that freshly ground black pepper brings more flavor than red pepper flakes (esp. if you don't saute the flakes first) because the flakes are often kind of dried out or losing flavor.

    Some other tricks I use to perk up a sauce are adding some minced jarred fire roasted peppers, minced dry packed sun dried tomatoes or balsamic vinegar.

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  7. This looks and sounds lovely. I've never bothered with the salting and draining of eggplants before but you make a compelling case for it...will have to try this at some stage on a cold night, as eggplants are good and cheap at the market and there's only so much ratatouille I can deal with!

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  8. You don't say in the directions when to add the pepper. I added with the onion and garlic. Also the can of diced tomatoes - drain or not? I didn't. How big is the onion supposed to be? Is the eggplant supposed to be peeled? Regardless of the questions it turned out good.

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  9. Mary-
    The directions do include the pepper.

    I didn't tell you to drain the tomatoes or peel the eggplant because you are not supposed to drain the tomatoes or peel the eggplant.

    Use one standard sized red onion.

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  10. Ooh I love how the pasta looks nice and crusty around the edges. This sounds wonderful!

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  11. I do a similar dish with my left over roasted oven ratatouille so I know that I would love this.

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  12. This sure does sound excellent. I've clipped it and hope to make it soon.

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  13. Thanks for answering me. In retrospect, I do think I should have stuck with your instructions on using the whole onion and all four of the garlic cloves. I agree with your statement that it could even take 5-6 cloves without seeming overwhelming.

    I agree also on the black viz red pepper flakes. I do think black pepper would have changed things. Folks, this is why you don't fiddle! Joking. I love to fiddle.

    Anyway I have leftovers. I'm thinking (since I've already cooked and made my mistakes,) is that I might add a little jar sauce like Prego to my leftovers, and some sharper cheese like more Parm Reg. I don't want to go back in with fresh ingredients to try and fix my mistakes. I also have some leftover fresh basil, so maybe a bit more of that.

    What I really loved about this dish was how the eggplant tasted. That was perfection. I guess I was in the mood for eggplant.

    I was going to go back through your blog before the weekend to look for something fun to cook that says "Holidays!"

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  14. I stand corrected - in any case it was delicious and I have now eaten it 3 meals running (dinner, breakfast, and lunch!) I could actually eat it again, but don't think my husband will go for it. It has all my favorite things in it. Great recipe - a keeper.

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  15. I've made this twice now. The first time, I made the eggplant cubes about an 1" big (and that was too big) and I used two cubanelle peppers (which was a little too spicy). I loved it, hubby was a little less enthused. The second time, I made the eggplant cubes much smaller (like 1/2" or less) and I used one cubanelle. My husband loved that version. I also liked it better as the eggplant really melted down and was delicious with the fresh herbs. Glorious vegetarian dish.

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  16. it was tasty. def will keep to make again.

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