This past Spring I finally subscribed to La Cucina Italiana. I’ve always eyed the magazine display whenever I shop at Buon Italia, and I thought reading and translating recipes would be a good way to practice my Italian. So I was a bit disappointed when my first issue arrived and it was in English (I realize now I need to subscribe specifically to the Italian edition)… but I was not at all disappointed when The Pasta Issue showed up.
In my house I could serve pasta every night of the week and there would never be a compliant from Brad. The first time we traveled to Italy together, in our enthusiasm to taste the unending variety of regional pastas we came across, we both found out what happens to a person who eats pasta for lunch and dinner every day for 15 days straight (I’ll give you a hint, 10 pounds and an unhappy digestive system). I think it took me a year to work that trip off and still, I ain’t afraid.
And then there is eggplant, possibly my favorite vegetable of this transitional season. They’re just so handsome, not to mention delicious! The most traditional eggplant dish I make is parmigiana, favoring a recipe from Anne Willan’s Good Food No Fuss. The sliced eggplant is roasted instead of fried, layered with fresh tomato sauce, basil, mozzerella and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, then baked to a state of molten amazingness. I serve it with some crusty garlic bread in late August when cooler nights call for comforting dishes like this one.
This year I’ve been on the hunt for a new way to celebrate the mighty eggplant, or aubergine, or melanzane, depending on your preference. I’ve tried Alice Waters’ Ratatouille and Yotam Ottolenghi’s Lentils with Broiled Eggplant, but neither of them were eggplant-centric enough for me. It was The Pasta Issue that revealed my new favorite dish. If you love eggplant and pasta half as much as I do, look no further. The recipe is so simple and the eggplant yields a silky, rich sauce for the noodles – truly a crema di melanzane.
Rigatoni with Roasted Eggplant Purée
Rigatoni con crema di melanzane from La Cucina Italiana
- 2 1/4 to 2 1/2 pounds eggplant
- 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- Fine sea salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 1/2 cup coarsely chopped flat-leaf parsley
- 2 tablespoons pine nuts
- 1 garlic clove, roughly chopped
- 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1 pound rigatoni
- Freshly grated Grana Padano or Pecorino Toscano cheese (I used Pecorino Romano)
Heat oven to 400º with rack in the middle. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Cut eggplants in half lengthwise; score flesh-sides in a crosshatch pattern with a small sharp knife. Brush with 1 tablespoon oil and season with generous pinch salt and pepper. Arrange eggplant cut-side down on prepared baking sheet and bake, rotating pan once halfway through, until tender, 45 to 50 minutes. Transfer baking sheet with roasted eggplant to wire rack. Turn eggplant halves cut-side up; let cool 5 minutes, then scrape eggplant flesh from skins; discard skins. Place flesh in a fine-mesh sieve set over a bowl; let drain 10 minutes. Discard liquid.
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.
In center of cutting board, mound parsley, pine nuts, garlic and oregano; finely chop together mixture. In a large skillet, heat remaining 3 tablespoons oil over medium-high heat. Add parsley mixture, reduce heat to low and cook, stirring frequently, 3 minutes. Stir in eggplant and cook 1 minute more. Remove skillet from heat.
Cook pasta in the boiling water until al dente; drain and transfer to a large serving bowl. Add eggplant mixture and cheese; toss to combine well. Adjust seasoning to taste. Serve immediately.