Tuesday, January 29, 2008

rigatoni with eggplant puree

rigatoni with eggplant puree

Seeing as I am never short on opinion on anything–most especially when it comes to many Food Network chefs that so often grace my television set, Alex calls the Sunday noontime shows my “stories”–I can’t believe I haven’t previously said a single word about Giada DeLaurentis. Let me redress that right now: I really want to like her–and no, not in the way that my husband does (busted!). I’ll see her cooking something and it always looks pretty good and like it could be tasty, but never, and I mean ever, do I feel any great need to cook the recipe for myself.

roasted eggplant, tomatoes

I think what it comes down to is that all of her recipes seem to be missing a little something, something that would make it more interesting. Like, you made pesto and added a swapped out a little mint for basil? Whoa. Where’d you come up with that! You add crushed almond cookies over an ice cream sundae to give it an “authentic Italian flavor”? I’m bowled over, here. But less sarcastically: does this actually improve it, or just make it different?

seasoning eggplant, tomatoes

But three times lately I have seen her make something and I really, really wanted to make it myself and when the most recent came in the format of a new (to me) pasta sauce that could be made fairly effortlessly, I caved and ended up with, well, the absolutely ugliest pasta dish to have graced the smitten kitchen (though it’s not the recipe’s, nor the recipe creator’s fault–pureed eggplant is just no beauty queen).

cubed-up eggplant

To make this, you roast eggplant with cherry tomatoes, whole garlic cloves, salt, pepper and red pepper flakes before pureeing it with more oil, fresh mint and a lot of pasta water to make a sauce that is mixed with parmesan (though this could easily be skipped if you wanted to make it vegan). The pasta is topped with toasted pine nuts. If you like these ingredients, I’m sure you’re drooling right now, as was I. And the results, they weren’t half-bad. It was not actually bland at all, which will hopefully bode well for the other recipes that have caught my eye, but I still have many suggestions for improvement, detailed below.

Still, I’m glad I experimented–the recipe is simple and fairly quick, the dish was tasty enough and seeing as I really wanted to give her recipe a fair shake, I’m glad I can now say I have. Now, who wants to hedge bets on that short rib tagliatelle?

rigatoni with eggplant puree

One year ago: Icebox Cake

Rigatoni with Eggplant Puree
Adapted from Giada DeLaurentis

I’ve made a few adjustments/suggestions to the original recipe. The eggplant is a total sponge and it seemed no matter how much pasta water I added, it was still lacking in sauciness. I think a higher proportion of tomatoes to the eggplant (which I have adjusted below) would have loosened up the sauce a bit, and perked up the flavor as well, as would a glug of vinegar or lemon juice at the end. Mixing it with ricotta was something many of the commenters on the Food Network site enjoyed, and I can’t imagine that would steer it in a bad direction.

1 small eggplant, cut into 1-inch cubes
1 pint cherry tomatoes
3 cloves garlic, whole
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/4 cup toasted pine nuts
1 pound rigatoni pasta
1/4 cup torn fresh mint leaves
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 cup grated Parmesan
Glug of balsamic or red wine vinegar or freshly-squeezed lemon juice (optional)

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a large bowl combine the eggplant, cherry tomatoes, garlic, olive oil, salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes. Spread the vegetables out in an even layer on the baking sheet. Roast in the oven until the vegetables are tender and the eggplant is golden, about 35 minutes.

While the vegetables are roasting, place the pine nuts in a small baking dish. Place in the oven on the rack below the vegetables. Roast until golden, about 8 4 minutes (only do it for 8 if you want them nice and burnt, like mine). Remove from the oven and reserve.

Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the pasta and cook until tender but still firm to the bite, stirring occasionally, about 8 to 10 minutes. Drain pasta into a large bowl and reserve (at least) 2 cups of the cooking liquid.

Transfer the roasted vegetables to a food processor. Add the torn mint leaves and extra-virgin olive oil. Puree the vegetables.

Transfer the pureed vegetables to the bowl with the pasta and add the Parmesan. Stir to combine, adding the pasta cooking liquid 1/2 cup at a time until the pasta is saucy, as well as a glug of vinegar (optional). Sprinkle the pine nuts over the top and serve.


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