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Roasted Eggplant and Tomato Pasta – the BEST pasta you’ll ever eat

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I’ve been telling you that I would share my all time favorite pasta and today is the day! This stuff is like crack for me and I don’t care if you think you don’t like eggplant or have never tried eggplant, just trust me: this is the most sumptuous dish I have come across in a very long time (and I surf Pinterest multiple times a day and I cook every day!).

Before we go any further, let’s give credit where it’s due. I only slightly adapted my version from Alexandra’s Kitchen (her recipes are gorgeous, go see them) and she borrowed it from the classic Chez Panisse VegetablesWhile I usually fiddle with recipes to suit my own tastes, this one required almost no modifications.

Next, let’s address the eggplant issue. I know, most people don’t get giddy over it, but they should! I didn’t plan to grow it in my garden this year, but I had some free space and the local nursery had some plants on sale, so I bought three eggplant plants. I had no idea how beautiful the plants would be…or how prolific. The joke about how everyone leaves zucchini on your porch or in your car at this time of year could apply to eggplant if more people grew it. I had beautiful, shiny purple orbs coming out of my ears, so I went a-searchin for some recipes and I was so lucky to find this one!

The beautiful silvery green plant makes these sweet little purple flowers

Then the flowers start making baby eggplant

Then we have beautiful purple fruit!

If you don’t have eggplant in your garden (and you probably don’t), you can find it at the farmer’s markets at this time of year and your local CSA or Bountiful Baskets may be including it in their distribution. You know that the eggplant is ready to eat when the skin is shiny and fairly firm (with some give), but not hard. Bigger is not better as they can get bitter if they’re too big.

Here’s how to make it:

Since eggplant can be bitter, we need to do a little prep work. I found that my super fresh from the garden eggplants were not bitter, but if you’re not sure, it’s best to go ahead and do this step. Remove the skin and slice the eggplant into planks about 1/2″ think. Lay on a double layered paper towel or kitchen towel and generously salt both sides. I am no chemistry buff, but apparently this helps leech out the bitterness. Leave them sitting for about 15 minutes, then flip. You’ll see moisture leaking out – that’s the bitterness. Leave another 15 minutes, then wipe off as much salt as possible. Some say to rinse and dry, but I think the residual moisture will impede the roasting process we’re about to use.

Salt both sides, then lay out to rest for 30 minutes, flipping halfway through.

Next, dice it up, and throw it on a baking sheet – NO olive oil this time – and roast at 400 degrees for 20-30 minutes, until softened and golden brown. Some people think that cooked eggplant is slimy. Complete MYTH. Let it cool and taste it now. Nothing slimy about it, right?

Roast diced eggplant at 400 for 20-30 minutes until tender and golden brown.

At this point, you have a choice to make. It’s about the tomatoes. Alexandra’s recipe calls for two cups of tomato sauce. When I made it the first time, I didn’t have any sauce and I was feeling a little lazy and didn’t want to make any (and I won’t buy it), so I dug around in the cupboard and found a can of fire-roasted diced tomatoes and used that for the sauce (adding a dollop of pesto). You can do the same and it will be amazing – I fell in love with it this way. BUT, if you want to go more homegrown, and use up some of those cherry tomatoes, go ahead and make a pan of roasted cherry tomatoes at the same time the eggplant is roasting. Beware, people may knock on your door, fork in hand, because they will smell all of this deliciousness wafting from the windows.

Caramelize an onion while the eggplant (and tomatoes, if you choose) roasts.

Meanwhile, caramelize an onion (see why I dedicated a whole post to caramelizing onions? We keep needing them!).

While the onions, eggplant and tomatoes are doing their thing, mince a couple of cloves of garlic. When the onions are ready, add the garlic and saute a minute, then deglaze the pan with a glug of vinegar – I used a red wine vinegar as I didn’t have a sherry vinegar as the original calls for. Next, add the canned or oven roasted tomatoes, the tomato paste, the roasted eggplant and a little bit of red pepper flakes. Stir and simmer on low.

Add garlic, vinegar and tomatoes to the pan.

Add the roasted eggplant to the pan and simmer. See those beautiful colors?

At this point, if you haven’t already done so, you can put the pasta on to boil until al dente. I used Barilla Plus penne, but you can use whatever type of pasta you have on hand.

Boil the pasta to al dente

I like to let the sauce simmer for a bit so all of the flavors can meld, but you can simmer as long or as short as you have time for. I have actually turned it off, covered it and left it sitting for up to an hour at this point. Be sure to grab a few forkfuls to test, though. A few minutes before I’m ready to serve, I chop up a handful of fresh basil and add to pan. I’ve learned it’s better to wait until later in the cooking process to add the fresh spices.

Chop a handful of fresh basil and add to the pan a few minutes before serving

After adding basil, simmer a few more minutes and drain the pasta, reserving about 1/2 cup of the pasta water. It’s so pretty and smells sooo luscious!

Finally, drain the pasta, reserving about 1/2 cup of the water in case the sauce needs to be a little more saucy. Add the pasta to the pan, fold in gently and serve immediately, or let it sit for a few minutes so the pasta soaks in some of the sauce. If your sauce is too thick for your taste, add the reserved pasta water, in small amounts until you reach the desired consistency. Serve and garnish with some grated Parmesan or Romano cheese, if desired.

The first time I served this, the Hubs asked if it had meat in it. No. He sighed…a meatless meal. Again. Then he dug in and devoured two helpings. In fact, we ate ALL OF IT that night. We stopped short of licking the pan. If you’re leery about eggplant, it’s ok. It doesn’t taste eggplanty at all. It’s just thick and rich and binds all of the other yummies together. I swear, if you make this for your next dinner party, you will be the next Martha Stewart Rachael Ray of the neighborhood!

Roasted Eggplant & Tomato Pasta

Servings: 4

Ingredients:

  • 1-2 large eggplant, peeled and diced
  • 1 onion, sliced
  • 2-3 garlic cloves, minced
  • a handful basil, chopped finely
  • 1 regular-sized can fire-roasted diced tomatoes (+ dollop of pesto) –OR– 1 recipe roasted cherry tomatoes
  • 2 dollops (about half a can) tomato paste (freeze the rest in ice cube trays for later)
  • 2 cups pasta (penne, or whatever you have on hand)
  • Red pepper flakes
  • Olive oil
  • 1 glug of red wine vinegar (I have also used red wine)
  • Salt and pepper
  • Parmesan or Romano cheese (optional)

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 400.
  2. Peel and slice eggplant into 1/2″ planks. Salt generously on both sides, then lay out on towels to drain for 30 minutes, flipping halfway through. If your eggplant is garden fresh, you should be safe to skip this step.
  3. If using the roasted cherry tomato recipe, prepare tomatoes while eggplant is draining.
  4. Wipe the salt off the sliced eggplant, then dice. Place on un-greased baking pan. Roast for 20-30 minutes until tender and golden brown.  If roasting tomatoes, place in oven at the same time as eggplant. They should finish about the same time.
  5. While eggplant and tomatoes roast, caramelize onions in a large, deep saute pan. The onions, tomatoes and eggplant should all be ready about the same time.
  6. When onions are caramelized, add garlic and saute for a minute before deglazing by splashing the vinegar or wine into the pan.
  7. Add tomatoes (canned or roasted) and paste to pan and simmer for a few minutes on low-medium heat.
  8. Fold in roasted eggplant and red pepper flakes. Salt and pepper to taste. Continue to simmer on a low heat.
  9. Put pasta on to boil. Cook until al dente, drain, reserving about 1/2 cup of the pasta water.
  10. Chop the basil and add to sauce a few minutes before serving.
  11. Add pasta to sauce, stir gently. Add reserved pasta water a spoonful at a time, to create a saucier sauce, if desired. Let simmer on low for a few minutes or serve.
  12. Garnish with Parmesan or Romano cheese, if desired.

Notes for next time: Honestly, this is one recipe that I plan to leave alone. I’m always tempted to add more ingredients – like I think it might be nice to add some zucchini to this (since we have plenty), but I am going to refrain and not mess with success since this is so perfect, as is. The Hubs loved it just as much when I made it again and thinks we should grow even more eggplant next year. Since I’m still drowning in the eggplant harvest, I wonder if I could make this sauce and then freeze it. I have baked and frozen some eggplant for winter use, but hadn’t though of freezing it. Might give that a whirl!

Please go get some eggplant and make this and then leave a comment about how much you loved it! 🙂

Related Posts:

For more eggplant recipes, see my Eggplant Board on Pinterest.

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Garden 2012 – The Season in Pictures

Cooking Ripe! has moved to: CookingRipe.com – please join us on the new site!

 

Since it’s late August and I’m just getting started here at Cooking Ripe! I thought I should catch you up on how the garden grew this year. We’re in full harvest now, so you’ll see the fruit of the labor in the kitchen in future posts.

We have a large lot, and tons of mostly flat space out back, but I have only had one tiny garden back there previously. It was so tiny that the Hubs and I cleared it and turned it by hand (and backs) last year. This year, I called in my friend with mini-tractor to ‘disk’ it, as the farmers here in SW Colorado say. I had another friend bring a load of sheep manure from his farm to mix into the clay soil. Due to a timing error on my part, I hand spread the manure myself.

Then in late April, I planted the right-hand side with early season crops: potatoes, lettuce, spinach, onions, peppers, carrots and garlic. I tell you more specifics about the varieties I planted later.

Here’s how it looked after the first round of planting:

First Planting: last week in April 2012

About a month later, I finally had time to get the second half planted. I added cilantro, basil, peppers, more garlic and onions, squash and my first ever tomato plants.
Meanwhile, the other side was starting to pop up:

Second planting: last week in May 2012
(Opposite view from first photo)

Over the next few weeks I watered and watered and fretted over what wasn’t happening: the cilantro and basil weren’t appearing on schedule. Fearing I would be watering expanses of empty dirt if I didn’t fill in along all of the soaker hoses, I added few plants from a local greenhouse: replacement cilantro, Thai basil, broccoli, and cabbage. I filled some other gaps with leftover green onion seeds and carrots. (Meet our kitty, Kow. She supervised the gardening, especially the carrot plants, until she passed away in late July. RIP sweet kitty).

Third week in June 2012 – everything’s planted.

As the watering continued (and the weeding began), I noticed many sprouts that I did not plant. I knew  the lazy composting (throwing my kitchen scraps out in the garden area all winter) was the culprit. I figured it was some sort of squash or melon, but nobody seemed to be able to positively identify the various volunteer sprouts. I decided to leave some, move some and (gasp!) pull some up.

Mystery squash

By early June the first payday: fresh cut LETTUCE! Isn’t it pretty and crispy? We had salad almost every day through most of August! There’s nothing simpler than going outside with some scissors, cutting a bowl of greens, washing them up and eating them with some homemade dressing (yes, I’ll show you how easy it is to make later!).

First of MANY lettuce cuttings!

While we sometimes get freaky snowstorms in June, this year was not cold: it was blistering hot for a few weeks. Coupled with crazy windstorms and no rain, I was afraid my delicate plants would wither or blow away. But, the heat broke on the 4th of July when we got some much needed cool air and a little rain. We also got our first carrot.

4th of July carrot!

Turns out that the cilantro and basil that had threatened to stay below ground, were just teasing. Both came up beautifully after the heatwave ended. Can you blame them? I love me some cilantro and lime – on anything! (Don’t worry, I have lots of cilantro recipes!) I was giddy when I got to cut bunches like this:

Viva cilantro!

By mid-July the garden was starting to produce regularly. We were eating lettuce daily and had fresh carrots and peppers as often as we wanted. The cilantro was ultra-productive and the basil was looking and smelling heavenly.

Mid-July: Great Progress!

By the end of July we were finally able to positively identify the mystery squash. We have a mini-pumpkin patch and a mini-cantaloupe patch. We are excited to see how the melons turn out, given our altitude (6,800 ft).

Here’s one of the pumpkins.

My very first ripe tomatoes – ever! I had never tried to grow tomatoes before, so it was oh, soooo exciting to see some red beauties hanging out on the vines.

First ripe tomatoes!

By the first week in August, we were really in full swing! We had green onions, zucchini, tomatoes, pepper, carrots and I started freaking out about keeping up with the harvest. It’s hard for two people to eat all of those veggies, but I did my best to find recipes to use up what we had so we didn’t waste. Also, since all of friends have gardens, it’s hard to give away the extras. Just eat your veggies – or freeze them!

Early August harvest

One of those extras I added from the local greenhouse was eggplant and has been the surprise hit of the year! The plants are really pretty and the eggplant is super yummy and not bitter like the ones in the store. Even the Hubs says we should grow more next year. I will share my favorite eggplant recipes soon! By mid-August, we started cutting basil (pesto recipe also coming soon) and pulling a few onions. Aren’t they pretty?

Mid-August basil, onions and eggplant!

When the garden gives you tomatoes, onions, peppers, garlic and cilantro you HAVE to make fresh salsa! I’ve made salsa in the past, but this was my first time canning it – and it was pretty simple. I’ll show you the next time I make some.

Fresh, homemade salsa: first canning project!

By late August, the lettuce and cilantro were going to seed (did you know coriander is the seed from the cilantro plant? I didn’t but do now!), but the tomatoes, squash, carrots, peppers, eggplant, broccoli and onions are still rocking. Soon we’ll dig and cure the onions and garlic for winter storage. We are still waiting for the pumpkins and cantaloupe to ripen, but I think we’re getting close. Potatoes are not looking great, but we’ll have a few itty bitties. Oh, and we have one monster cabbage still cooking out there. Can’t wait to cut that head and cook it up. The Hubs loves cabbage!

Late August progress

Fresh broccoli anyone?

Coriander is cilantro that has gone to seed – it’s like a “two-fer-one”

Purple bell peppers are odd looking, but fun in the garden. Haven’t eaten any yet, so we’ll see how they taste later

This is Lola, my main garden supervisor

And this is Daisy, my main tomato taster (thief)

So, this brings us to date with the garden. While it’s starting to wind down, we have lots to eat and preserve still. I hope we can get it all done!

End of August