Lidia Bastianich is one of my favorite go-to’s for Italian chefs. Her cookbook, Lidia’s Italian-American Kitchen is one of my most well-loved and most used cookbooks. Her recipes are always authentic, relatable, and delicious, and this recipe is no exception. The roasted eggplant is meaty and satisfying with a bit of a bite to it, which pairs very well with the creaminess of the ricotta. The fresh basil makes for a bold fresh addition, but be sure to add it right at the end so it doesn’t look any of its freshness.
I really like to cook with eggplants when I see that they are fresh at my local grocery store. They are a nice hearty addition to meals where you want to omit meat. They are in peak season from July-October, but if you are buying out of season, look for eggplants that are smooth and heavy with no marring or wrinkling on the skin and fresh looking stalks.
This dish is really easy to prepare and takes very little prep work. It’s a perfect way to use up any leftover eggplant for a single serve lunchtime or dinner pasta portion. Although the eggplant is diced, I prefer to peel the skin in strips, just to remove a little bit of the bitter flavor that eggplant skin can impart. Additionally, this recipe calls for you to drain the eggplant for an hour with course salt. I have often times skipped this step, and haven’t noticed any dramatic difference in the end result. Additionally, although this recipe calls for using a homemade tomato sauce, I usually prefer to use jarred sauce. Believe me, I love to make homemade tomato sauce, but on busy weekday nights, I find that using a jarred sauce makes dinner preparation a little quicker and easier. Rao’s is my absolute favorite. You pay a little more on the front end, but the taste is well worth the few extra dollars. To those of you who prefer to cook with fresh sauce, I will leave the recipe as-is. Enjoy!
- 2 large firm eggplants
- 2 tbsp Coarse sea salt, plus more salt for cooking the pasta and sauce
- 6 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 garlic cloves, peeled and sliced
- 35 ounce can Italian plum tomatoes, (preferably San Marzano) with their liquid
- 1 pound penne
- 1 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano, freshly grated
- 1 cup basil leaves, washed, dried, and shredded
- 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper
- ½ pound whole milk ricotta
- Trim the stems from the eggplant. Remove strips of peel about 1 inch wide from the eggplant, leaving about half the peel intact. Cut the eggplant into 1-inch cubes, and toss in a large bowl with the 2 tablespoons salt. Dump into a colander and let drain for 1 hour. Rinse the eggplant under cool running water, drain thoroughly, and pat dry.
- Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Brush a baking sheet with half the olive oil. Turn the eggplant cubes onto the baking sheet, toss to coat with oil, and spread them out in an even layer. Bake until the eggplant is very tender and browned, about 25 minutes. Turn and stir the eggplant cubes gently once or twice so they cook evenly.
- Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat for the penne.
- Heat the remaining olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Scatter the garlic over the oil, and cook, shaking the pan, until golden, about 3 minutes. Pour in the crushed tomatoes, add the pepper flakes, and season lightly with salt. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes.
- Stir the penne into the boiling water. Return to a boil, stirring frequently. Cook the pasta, semi-covered, stirring occasionally, until al dente, about 10 minutes.
- Drain the pasta, and return it to the empty pot over low heat. Pour in about half of the sauce, tossing lightly to coat the pasta with sauce. Remove the pot from the heat, stir in ½ cup of the grated cheese and the basil. Toss in half of the roasted eggplant cubes and toss, then add the ricotta by heaping teaspoonfuls,stirring it gently into the pasta; you want the ricotta to warm, but you do not want it to blend with the sauce completely.
- Plate the pasta, and spoon the reserved sauce over each serving. Now add equal amounts of the remaining baked eggplant to the top of all the pasta plates. Sprinkle with the remaining grated cheese,and serve.
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