When I was a kid my dad would occasionally make eggplant for dinner– he’d slice it lengthwise, put some kind of seasoning on the cut side, and roast it in the oven until the insides went all brown and mushy. I thought it looked disgusting. This was not aided by the fact that Dad would tell us that the brown part in the middle was actually a giant worm that lived inside every eggplant and was extra tasty when cooked. Ugh!
That story put me off eggplant for a while, honestly, and while I eventually recovered enough to enjoy eggplant parmesan and Chinese-style eggplant with spicy bean sauce and pork, I never really felt the urge to make eggplant myself.
That being said, when my local farmer’s market had a $1/lb. deal on eggplant, I decided it would be worth a shot to get myself a bagful. After a little digging online, I found this recipe, originally from Giada de Laurentiis but re-blogged by Smitten Kitchen. I tried making it with a few substitutions (canned tomatoes instead of the more expensive freshly roasted cherry tomatoes, omitting the pine nuts because I didn’t have any in my pantry), and it was pretty darned good! I decided to tweak it a little more to make it amazing, and the resulting recipe is something I’m definitely going to put into the rotation.
The eggplant and the tomato work well together, with the mint adding just enough of a fresh pop of flavor to keep things from being cloying. You can make the sauce to serve over plain pasta (rigatoni really is the perfect pasta for this thick, chunky sauce; ziti or penne would work fine too), but I really like the addition of baked-in cheese to take it over the top into serious comfort food.
Cheesy Eggplant Pasta Bake
1 large round eggplant, or two large skinny eggplant, cut into 1″ cubes
28-oz. can of diced tomatoes (fire roasted if you can find them)
3 cloves garlic, peeled
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. pepper
3/4 tsp. red pepper flakes
1/4 cup fresh mint leaves
6 tbs. olive oil, divided
1/2 cup grated Parmesan
1 lb. rigatoni pasta
2 cups shredded mozzarella
1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F and line a baking sheet with foil.
2. In a large bowl or on the baking sheet, toss cubed eggplant and garlic cloves with 3 tbs. olive oil, salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes. Spread out in a single layer on baking sheet and roast for about 35 minutes, until tender and golden. Do not turn off your oven after removing the eggplant, just reduce heat to 350.
3. Once eggplant is cooked, transfer to a food processor with tomatoes (I didn’t bother draining mine since there wasn’t much juice, but you may wish to if yours are particularly watery), torn mint leaves, parmesan cheese, and remaining 3 tbs. oil. Process until it forms a very thick, somewhat chunky mixture. (I used my immersion blender for this and it worked fine)
4. Cook pasta according to package directions and drain, reserving 1 cup cooking water.
5. Stir eggplant/tomato mixture into hot cooked pasta and add Parmesan cheese. Add cooking water 1/4 cup at a time until you reach your desired saucy consistency. Maybe go a little bit wetter than you would for immediate serving, since some moisture will bake out in the next step.
6. Stir in 1 cup of shredded mozzarella and pour all of the pasta into a large baking dish. Top with the other cup of mozzarella.
7. Bake approximately 15 minutes at 350 degrees F until the cheese is gooey and melty. Serve.
This makes fabulous leftovers, by the way, and if the cheese is making you feel guilty you can always tell yourself that there’s a bunch of vegetables in there to make it healthy!
** Also, I had a cup or so of extra eggplant/tomato sauce leftover (I’d tossed in an extra eggplant since I had it on hand), and tried using it as a chunky pizza sauce with provolone, sauteed kale, and some hot Italian sausage. DELICIOUS. My favorite homemade pizza recipe yet!