Pasta Bake with Eggplant, Tomatoes, and Ricotta Cheese

Blue oval baking dish full of pasta shells, tomatoes, eggplant, and ricotta cheese on an orange background.

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

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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

Bow Ties with Roasted Red Pepper Sauce

a blue shallow bowl full of bow tie pasta and roasted red pepper sauce and parmesan

It’s been a few weeks now since my obsession with jarred roasted red peppers began. I’ve been finding ways to include them in everything, from soup to salsa to this pasta sauce. I like to add freshly roasted sweet peppers to the jarred variety to punch up the pepper flavour, but there’s something so piquantly pleasant about the bright red strips and the brine they’ve been embalmed in . Oddly enough, I like to eat food that’s even spicier than my normal year round preference in the summertime so I’m always sure to add lots of my beloved dried chilies to the final product. Parmigiano-Reggiano is without a doubt the best choice for this pasta, the older the better. If you must substitute with another cheese I would opt for something entirely opposite of Reggiano such as fresh chèvre or Macedonian feta, crumbled.

bow ties with roasted red pepper sauce:

Enough bow tie pasta for 2 or 3 people

2 sweet peppers, cut into 1/2 inch strips

1 Tbsp. olive oil + more for drizzling

1 small onion, diced

1 jar of roasted red peppers, cut into thin strips + 1/3 cup of liquid from the jar

2 plum tomatoes, diced

1/2 cup vegetable stock

1 Tbsp. freshly chopped oregano or 1 tsp. dried oregano

1 Tbsp. fresh basil, cut in a very fine chiffonnade

Kosher or sea salt, to taste

Generous pile of grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

Dried red chilies

1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Arrange the sweet pepper strips in a single layer on a parchment lined baking sheet and drizzle with olive oil. Roast the peppers for 30-40 minutes, stirring frequently towards the end. You want the peppers to be softened and just beginning to darken in spots.

2. Heat 1 Tbsp. of olive oil over medium heat in a large skillet and add the onion, jarred roasted peppers, the freshly roasted sweet peppers, and plum tomatoes. Add salt to taste and allow to cook for 10 minutes or so, or until the contents have become soft.

3. Add the vegetable stock and liquid from the jarred peppers and continue to cook down until the liquids have begun to thicken. Using a hand blender, carefully blitz the sauce in a few short bursts – you want the sauce to still have a somewhat coarse texture (if you don’t have a hand blender put a few ladlefuls of the sauce in a regular blender or food processor and mix back in afterwards).

4. Turn the heat down to low and prepare the bow tie pasta according to package directions. Top with a generous amount of roasted red pepper sauce, grated cheese, and, my favourite, dried chilies.

Aw! Love! When we moved last month Ian found all of our mix CDs from a decade ago; these CDs are so important because at the time I lived in London, Ontario and he lived in Olympia, Washington. Receiving one of these in the mail, all the tracks hand-written and oftentimes with a sweet love note tucked into the case as a surprise when you opened it for the first time, was so much bigger than a letter in some ways because it felt like you could experience the other person’s reality just a little bit easier and more tangibly.

Stars – Elevator Love Letter