Sunday, August 22, 2010

Penne with Eggplant, Tomatoes, and Mozzarella

Penne with Eggplant

We love this pasta at our house. I make it a couple times a year, usually from about August-April when it is cool in the evenings. I like it best in the fall because It's comforting and warming on crisp nights. And I don't know about your neck of the woods, but up here the weather is already starting to act fall-esque. I'm not complaining. Fall is the best with it's warm days and cool mornings and nights. It is arguably the most beautiful of all the seasons as well, especially if you live in a place where the leaves get out of control gorgeous like they do up here. They paint the mountains shades of yellow, red and orange and berries start to appear on every shrub and the air smells clean. All I want to do that time of year is take long walks by day to soak in the beauty and eat eggplant pasta by night.

Eggplant

Eggplant is such a versatile vegetable, which blends so well with the heartiness of the pasta and the richness of a full-flavored tomato sauce. I'd venture to say you should feed this to people who think they don't like eggplant and see if they don't change their minds. It's that good. Simple, as almost all authentic Italian cooking is, and soul-soothing. That's what sums up this dinner in a nut shell. It's actually Sicilian in origin, but served all throughout Italy in small trattorias. This is what I sent out for my families Christmas recipe exchange last year. Or was it the year before that? Oh well, now I can't remember but this recipe did indeed go out. It was worthy.

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Penne with Eggplant, Tomatoes, and Mozzarella
adapted from Patricia Wells "Trattoria"

3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil, divided
1 small onion, minced
2 plump fresh garlic cloves, minced
sea salt or kosher salt
one 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes in puree
1 firm medium eggplant (1 pound) cubed (do not peel)
1 pound dried Italian tubular pasta such as penne, gemelli, ziti or fusili
2 cups cubed whole-milk mozzarella

In a large deep skillet, (large enough to hold the pasta later on) heat 1/2 cup olive oil over moderately high heat. When the oil is hot but not smoking, add the eggplant and cook until lightly colored, about 5 minutes. (the eggplant will soak up the oil immediately, but allow it to cook without added oil, keeping the pan moving to avoid scorching.) Season generously with salt. Remove the eggplant from the pan and onto a plate and set aside. Allow the pan to cool off while you cut the onions and garlic.

In the same skillet used for the eggplant, (which should be relatively cool at this point) combine the remaining 1/4 cup olive oil, the onion, garlic, and a pinch of salt, stirring to coat with the oil. Cook over moderate heat just until the garlic turns golden but does not brown, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the can of crushed tomatoes and stir to blend, and simmer, uncovered, until the sauce begins to thicken, about 15 minutes. Taste for seasoning.

Meanwhile, in a large pot, bring 6 quarts of water to a rolling boil. Add 3 tablespoons salt and the pasta, stirring to prevent the pasta from sticking. Cook until tender but firm to the bite. Drain thoroughly.

Add the eggplant and pasta into the pan with the tomato sauce. Toss to blend. Cover and let rest off the heat for 1-2 minutes to allow the pasta to absorb the sauce. transfer the pasta to warmed shallow bowls and sprinkle each serving with cubed mozzarella. Serve immediately.

Yield: 6 servings

Sometimes I use 2 eggplants instead of one because I love it so much. Make sure to buy the real deal mozzarella (it should be soft) because it's much better than the string cheese like processed stuff. I also add the eggplant back into the sauce before I add the pasta in, although you don't have to do that. I just think the eggplant absorbs the sauce and tastes better if you let it sit a few minutes and allow the flavors to mingle.

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