Growing up, whenever I heard we were having eggplant for dinner my mood would darken in anticipation of that tough disc of chewy-yet-slimy eggplant hidden under formerly friendly elements like tomato sauce & parmesan cheese. God bless my mom, and I sure do miss her and REALLY appreciate all she did for me (‘specially now that I have kids!) but I don’t think eggplant was her specialty. Is that wrong to say?
This recipe takes care of all the problems: the tough/chewiness, the slime & the sheer mass of the slices. It also lets the eggplant do its job: soak up all the flavors! I love this recipe! It’s basically an extra special baked ziti that’s easy to make!
Btw: it got really dark out when I was shooting my ingredients. I’m ’bout to run to OSH for a clip lamp tomorrow but since Bea’s asleep, let’s overlook the imperfections! This recipe is totally worth it.
Here’s (mostly) what you need:
You’ll notice I have only 1 eggplant in the picture – but the recipe calls for 2 LARGE eggplants and I recommend you use that amount if you can! While I was shopping for some of the ingredients, my kids were hollering for those little Horizon chocolate milks that I buy so they can take a sip or two before squeezing it up and over their hair/shirts/shoes/my purse & the shopping cart. I said no causing one of them to scream so loudly she peed her own pants IN the shopping cart. So I bought only 1 eggplant by mistake.
Use 2 large eggplants for best results! And quit blaming your kids for all your problems!
2 large firm eggplants (each about 1.25 lbs)
2 TBSP coarse salt (plus more for pasta & sauce) – You can really use regular salt if you don’t have coarse but you’ll need less.
6 TBSP olive oil
2 cloves garlic, peeled & sliced
(1) 35-oz can peeled Italian plum tomatoes, lightly crushed in their juices
1 tsp crushed hot red pepper
1 lb ziti
1 c grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
1 c fresh basil leaves, shredded
1/2 lb (1 c) ricotta cheese
8 oz Fontina cheese, sliced thin
A note before I start: this dish can be served as a hot pasta dish from a bowl OR you can go right ahead and bake it. The Fontina cheese is for the baking option. It’s delicious both ways!
First, cut the stems off the eggplants. Then peel 1″ wide strips of skin off the eggplant leaving about half the peel intact. In other words, peel 1″ then leave 1″ then peel 1″ etc. so it looks like it has stripes going down it longways.
Then dice the eggplant, toss with 2 TBSP coarse salt (or about 1 TBS regular salt) in a medium bowl (SAVE THE BOWL!! You can use it again before washing.) and drain in a colander for an hour. Rinse it under cool water & pat dry.
Preheat oven to 400. Using that same bowl you SAVED, toss the eggplant with about 3 TBS olive oil & spread on a baking sheet in an even layer.
Bake for about 20-25 minutes or until browned. Turn with a spatula as needed (or don’t if you forget!) When eggplant is done, just set it aside.
Next, do two things at once:
1. Set your pasta water to boil in a large pot. You’ll be combining all your ingredients in here in about 15 minutes so make sure it’s large enough. I always start the water unsalted with the lid on as it boils faster. Then I add the salt. You see, the salt slows down the boiling.
2. In a large skillet, heat your remaining 3 TBS olive oil.
Can you handle the multi-tasking?
While your water is heating up, add the garlic slices
to the olive oil for about 3 minutes, until golden. Be sure to move/stir them every so often.
Add the tomatoes. Note Ralphs’ moxxi re: the knock-off San Marzano tomatoes. Well done, Ralphs!
(In re-reading this, I just realized that is an inside joke between me, myself & I. You see, the original recipe advises you to use San Marzano tomatoes if possible. Well, Ralphs didn’t have them and I’m not the type of person to race off to Whole Foods or Bay Cities JUST for that!! Anyway, I laffed a little to myself when I saw this label.)
Incidentally, it was only a 28 oz can so I had to supplement with some from another can. Don’t let these things worry you a’tall!
Add the red pepper flakes, bring to a boil and then simmer for about 10 minutes. Be sure to stir occasionally. Add salt if needed – mine didn’t.
Your water should be hot now! Add the ziti, stir & add the salt of you haven’t done so already. Set timer! I like mine al dente so I set it for 1 minute under recommended cooking time.
It’s all coming together!
Drain the pasta & return it to the pot.
Pour in all but about 1/2 cup of sauce (unless you don’t plan to bake it) & toss lightly.
Yes, the original recipe asks you to save 1/4 c but I think you need a little more.
Stir in 3/4 c of the parmesan cheese.
And the basil.
Gently stir in the eggplant. (Of course I did this in the wrong order but through the magic of computers I am switching the order for your benefit.) There is a reason for the order!
Add heaping spoonfuls of the ricotta.
Stir minimally into the pasta. The point of this is to heat the ricotta, not combine it completely as you’ll want little pockets of ricotta to remain in the end product!
Now: you can serve it as is OR you can bake it. I baked it this time.
If you want to bake it, pour it into a 13×11″ baking dish.
Doesn’t this look so good?
Arrange the slices of fontina across the top.
Add the remaining tomato sauce atop the cheese slices, then sprinkle remaining parmesan cheese.
Bake until the edges are bubbling and cheese is lightly browned. About 20-30 minutes.
From Lidia’s Italian-American Kitchen, by Lidia Bastianich
- 2 large firm eggplants (each about 1.25 lbs)
- 2 TBSP coarse salt (plus more for pasta & sauce) – You can really use regular salt if you don’t have coarse but you’ll need less.
- 6 TBSP olive oil
- 2 cloves garlic, peeled & sliced
- 1) 35-oz can peeled Italian plum tomatoes, lightly crushed in their juices
- 1 tsp crushed hot red pepper
- 1 lb ziti
- 1 c grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
- 1 c fresh basil leaves, shredded
- ½ lb (1 c) ricotta cheese
- 8 oz Fontina cheese, sliced thin
- Cut end off eggplant. Peel 1″ strips about 1″ apart down the eggplant lengthwise. Dice eggplant & toss with 2 TBS coarse salt. Drain in a colander for about an hour.
- Set water to boil for the pasta.
- In a large skillet sautee garlic slices in heated olive oil for about 3 minutes, turning or stirring every so often until golden brown. Add tomatoes and crushed red pepper. Bring to a boil, then turn heat to low and simmer for about 10 minutes.
- Add pasta to water. Add salt to water (if desired.) When pasta is done, drain & return to pot.
- Add all but ½ c of the sauce (if you plan to bake it) to pasta. Toss lightly to combine.
- Stir in ¾ c of the parmesan cheese and the basil. Add the eggplant. Add large spoonfuls of the ricotta, stirring just enough to distribute the ricotta evenly but not enough to combine it (in other words, you want pockets of ricotta to remain throughout the pasta.)
- If you plan on baking, gently pour pasta into a 13×11″ baking dish.
- Place the slices of Fontina across the top.
- Add the remaining tomatoes sauce & parmesan cheese.
- Bake for 20-30 minutes until sides are bubbling and cheese is lightly browned.