Seeing as I am never short of opinions on anything–most especially when it comes to the 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 said a single word about Giada. Let me redress that right now: I really want to like her — and no, not in the way that my husband might (busted!). I’ll see her cooking something and it always looks pretty good and like it could be tasty, but I so rarely feel the need to make it myself because I’m not convinced that, say, adding mint to a basil pesto is going to make it more interesting or that adding crushed almond cookies to an ice cream sundae for an “authentic Italian flavor” is any of the things described. Does this actually improve it, or just make it different?
But three times lately I saw her making dishes that was too curious not to make, most recently in the format of a fairly effortless pasta sauce from roasted vegetables… and ended up with, well, the absolutely ugliest pasta dish to have yet graced the Smitten Kitchen. Pureéed eggplant is never going to win a beauty contest; actually the word purée is kind of ick too, right? It just sounds like baby food. Fortunately, it tastes a lot better.
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 (but I also like this with basil) 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 too. The recipe is simple and fairly quick, and the resulting dish was hearty and original. I’d worried the flavor would be flat but it was well seasoned and anything but and I was glad I’d overcome my skepticism to try it. Now, who wants to hedge bets on that short rib tagliatelle?
One year ago: Icebox Cake
Rigatoni with Eggplant Puree
- 1 medium eggplant, cut into 1-inch cubes
- 1 pint (2 cups) cherry tomatoes
- 3 cloves garlic, peeled
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes (adjust to taste)
- 1 pound dried rigatoni pasta
- 1/4 cup torn fresh mint or basil leaves, plus a couple extra, slivered, to finish
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 1/2 cup grated Parmesan or (shown here) ricotta salata
- 1/4 cup toasted pine nuts
In a large bowl combine the eggplant, cherry tomatoes, garlic, 3 tablespoons olive oil, salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes (to taste). 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.
Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the pasta and cook until tender but a full minute shy of done, about 8 to 10 minutes. Drain pasta but reserve a cups or so of the cooking water.
Transfer the roasted vegetables — I use the parchment paper as a sling — to a food processor or blender. Add the torn mint or basil leaves and additional 3 tablespoons olive oil. Blend until almost smooth.
Return the pasta to the cooking pot, pour sauce over it and a splash (about 1/3 cup) of cooking water and cook together, tossing so that the pasta is evenly coated, over medium-high heat for 1 to 2 minutes. Add more pasta cooking water, one ladleful at a time, as needed, if needed to loosen the sauce.
Transfer pasta and sauce to a serving bowl; garnish with extra herbs, pine nuts and parmesan or ricotta salata, and serve.