ORIGINAL RECIPE: “Eggplant Sauce with Tomato and Red Chili Pepper,” from Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking, by Marcella Hazan*
TIMING: Probably 1 1/2 hours, considering the soak time for the eggplant and bringing the water to boil. It’s simple but slow food
DIFFICULTY: Not hard, but there are things you need to know about eggplant
TOOLS: A colander, tongs, and other standard things
COOK TYPE: Stove top
HEALTH: As your weekly bowl of pasta, this is a good one. It is vegetarian, and is loaded with healthy veg: eggplant, tomato, and garlic. Chili is also good for you, as well as that extra virgin olive oil. (But as I’ve said before, I advise that you limit your pasta–I try to stick to one time per week and serve it with something else, like a salad, or in this case, a protein.)
EXPERIENCE: I saw an eggplant in the grocery store. It beckoned to me. I tried to resist, because eggplant takes some prepping and also because my family is not at all as enamored of the eggplant as I am. But it made me pick it up and put it in the cart: shiny, curvy, purple.
To be frank, I used to hate eggplant. I considered it bitter and bland, and mooshy. Then a Lebanese restaurant in the area introduced me to baba ganouj, which is mild, yes, but silky and deep. Then I tried their ratatouille. Years later, I still can not get enough. In this application, the eggplant is also wonderfully silky.
I can’t blame you for thinking eggplant is slimy (like yogurt), but I have come to not only appreciate it, but crave it. This recipe, the eggplant comes off smoky and soft, with an almost-crispy edge, and livened by all the pungent garlic and the hot chili.
NOTE: You can leave out the chili flakes if you don’t do spicy, but they really do take this dish to another level. If in doubt, serve them on the table and let people sprinkle a little on top of their serving.
- Peel a medium-large eggplant (a potato peeler works), then slice it about 1/2 inch thick. Place the slices in a colander and sprinkle generously with salt, tossing to make sure the salt is on all slices. Let sit for at least 1/2 hour.
- Rinse the eggplant and dry thoroughly with paper towels or clean towels.
- In a wide saute pan, heat enough grapeseed oil to cover the bottom of the pan, over high heat. Dip the tip of a slice of eggplant into the oil, and if it sizzles, the oil is hot enough. Place enough slices in the pan to cover the bottom without crowding.
- Turn the slices over when the bottom is browned. When second side is brown, transfer slices to a draining rack or more paper towels. Repeat with the rest of the eggplant, making sure oil stays hot and covers the bottom of the pan at all times, adding more as needed.
- While eggplant cools, bring a large pot of salted water to boil.
- Meanwhile, empty out your saute pan, and heat 3 tablespoons olive oil with 2 teaspoons thin-sliced garlic over medium heat.
- When garlic begins to color, add 15 ounces canned tomatoes (or 2 cups chopped, fresh), 3 tablespoons chopped parsley, red pepper flake to taste, and salt.
- Stir and simmer over low heat while you finish the pasta. A good 1/2 hour simmer would be nice.
- When eggplant has cooled, cut it into “fingers” about 1/2 inch wide. When pasta is done, add it to the sauce, toss, then add in the eggplant and toss. Taste for salt and pepper.
Serve with Parmesan, parsley, and a protein. A chicken piccata would be nice, as well as a green salad.
*Recipe has been changed from the original.