Eggplant is one of those things I recently taught myself to like, and I’m still sort of experimenting. This was my second time making this recipe, but the first time my eggplant had started to get overripe and I had to cut away so many bad spots, there wasn’t a lot left for the sauce and I wasn’t sure I was getting the full effect. Now that I’ve given if another shot, I’m still not sure. I flubbed up several steps of the recipe through carelessness or impatience, which may have affected the result. First, for some reason (perhaps thinking of the ratatouille recipe), I started trimming the ends of the eggplant and chopping it. DON’T DO THIS. The eggplant should be baked whole. Also, I didn’t peel the skin off the eggplant. (Hey, I was tired.) In retrospect, I would recommend peeling it. There’s nothing wrong with eggplant skin, but it changed the texture of the pasta sauce. Third, I sort of goofed by buying a 14-ounce can of whole tomatoes, which claimed to contain 3.5 ½-cup servings, thus satisfying the requirement for 1½ cups tomatoes. But of course this included the juice, so really I had less than 1½ cups tomatoes and just barely ¾ cup juice. In the future I think I’d err on the safe side and get a 28-ounce can of tomatoes. My sauce turned out a bit dry, and the eggplant really dominated the tomatoes. So I think, all in all, I’ve learned an important lesson about concentration.
I enjoyed the pasta well enough while I was eating it, but it’s not going to become something I crave. In a lot of ways, it’s too similar to a ratatouille recipe I have. I think I like the ratatouille better, but A prefers the pasta. Anyway, this is worth trying if you’re an eggplant fan. I would make it again. (Postscript, December 2009: I've never made it again.)
The recipe, by the way, is from my favorite cookbook and one of the few I actually own, Pasta e Verdura: 140 Vegetable Sauces for Spaghetti, Fusilli, Rigatoni, and All Other Noodles, by Jack Bishop. I’d say at least 15 of the pasta recipes I make frequently come from this book, and there are still many I haven’t tried. Highly recommended.
1 large eggplant (about 1¼ pounds)
1 teaspoon + 3 tablespoons olive oil
1 small onion, minced
3 medium cloves garlic, minced
1½ cups drained canned whole tomatoes, juice reserved
1 tablespoon fresh oregano leaves
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons minced fresh basil leaves
1 pound rigatoni
freshly grated Parmesan cheese to taste
1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
2. Place the whole eggplant on a baking sheet, brush it very lightly with the 1 teaspoon of oil, and bake it until the flesh is soft and the skin is wrinkled, about 30 minutes (turn it over once, after 15 minutes). As Jack points out, baking eggplant sidesteps its tendency to soak up oil like a sponge and become soggy and greasy, which is one of the reasons this is a good eggplant recipe.
3. Take the eggplant out of the oven and let it cool enough to touch. Trim off the stem and peel away the skin with your fingers. Cut the eggplant into ½-inch cubes and set them aside.
4. While the eggplant is cooling, put 4 quarts of salted water in a large pot on the stove and brought it to a boil. Then heat the remaining 3 tablespoons of olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onion to the skillet and saute until translucent, about 5 minutes. Then add the garlic and cook for another minute.
5. Coarsely chop the tomatoes and add them to the skillet along with ¾ cup of their packing juice. Cook ith the onion and garlic in the skillet for several minutes, occasionally using a spoon to break the tomatoes apart.
6. Stir in the eggplant, oregano, salt, and pepper. Simmer everything over medium heat 20 to 25 minutes, until the sauce thickens.
7. Meanwhile, cook the pasta until al dente and drain it. Stir the basil into the tomato-eggplant sauce, toss the hot pasta in the skillet with the sauce, serve out portions, and sprinkle them with the grated cheese.
Time: About an hour