I have a bad habit of buying eggplants with the best of intentions and then never using them before they start to deteriorate. Every time I open the fridge I guiltily take note of the slow shrivelling that is happening before my eyes. Yes, even the state of my fresh produce causes me anxiety. I had been watching this eggplant for the past couple of days with a feeling of impending doom, why aren’t there more Easter-y recipes that call for eggplant? When I looked in the fridge this morning I knew it was now or never time for this eggplant, and for once I knew exactly how I wanted to use it. I must be in a spring nesting mood lately, all I want to do is cook for people and be in the kitchen. I already made macaroni and cheese on Saturday, why wouldn’t I make another gigantic cheesy pasta bake? The eggplant and tomato make a velvety sauce, a perfect backdrop for generous dollops of fresh ricotta and oozing mozzarella cheese. This is a very bare bones recipe, the eggplant and tomatoes shine with the addition of a handful of chopped niçoise olives and a few pantry staples. You could use torn fresh mozzarella, caciocavallo (regular or smoked), Macedonian feta, or sheep ricotta as alternatives to the cheeses suggested in this recipe. I’ve added jarred roasted red peppers, chopped capers, green olives, and pickled zucchini to the sauce depending on what I have on hand at the time (what I’m looking for is something that’s going to give fantastic umami resonance to the final taste).
pasta bake with eggplant, tomatoes, and ricotta cheese:
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 large eggplant, cut into a small dice
5 plum tomatoes, cut into a rough chunks
3 cloves of garlic, minced
A small handful of niçoise olives, pitted and roughly chopped
1 tsp. dried oregano
1 tsp. kosher salt
Generous amount of freshly cracked pepper
1/2 -1 tsp. dried chillies
A large handful of fresh basil, torn into small pieces
1 lb. of pasta shells
300 g container of fresh ricotta
1 cup of grated mozzarella
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Salt the cut up eggplant for half an hour in sieve before rinsing well and blotting dry in a clean kitchen towel.
- Heat the olive oil over medium heat in a large skillet. Add the eggplant, tomatoes, minced garlic, and niçoise olives. Add the dried oregano, salt, freshly cracked pepper, and dried chillies; continue to cook for 8-10 minutes or until very soft.
- While the eggplant and tomato sauce is coming together, cook the pasta shells according to package directions making sure to reserve 1 cup of cooking water. Stir the cooking water into the eggplant and tomato sauce and add the pasta, tossing to coat. Remove the skillet from the heat and stir in the fresh basil.
- Spread a layer of the sauced pasta on the bottom of a 9’x13′ glass casserole dish. Dollop the ricotta over the pasta to cover (there will be lots of bare spots). Spoon the remaining pasta over the ricotta layer and finish with the rest of the ricotta and the grated mozzarella.
- Bake for 30 minutes and allow to sit for 10 minutes before serving. Garnish with additional fresh basil if desired.
Oh it’s been so nice to have time to do nothing this weekend, including listening to a whole bunch of jazz, eating hot cross buns, sleeping in, and making food for my friends.
Dizzy Gillespie – There is No Greater Love