I invented this recipe on the fly one work night. I had intended to make vegetable chili the weekend before but didn't get around to it. I needed to make a lot of some kind of food with the ingredients I had on hand (we have teenaged boys in the house). It was a cold winter night so baked pasta sounded good. It is much less fussy than many baked pasta dish recipes I've found (really, an egg?) but the addition of eggplant adds a substantial and elegant texture that is delicious but not automatically identifiable. Small children will eat it without questioning. —renee.twersky
8 adults or 4 teenage boys
medium eggplant, trimmed, skinned and cut into chunks
Place the eggplant in a microwavable bowl and cover. Microwave on high for 5-10 minutes until the eggplant is very soft and moist. Sprinkle with a little salt and set aside.
Alternate method: If you have time, you can roast them whole at 375° about an hour, let them cool, scrape the eggplant flesh from its skin, and mash well.
While the eggplant cools, cook the pasta in plenty of salted boiling water until al dente or even a little chewier. Drain, toss with a little olive oil and set aside.
Pre-heat the oven to 350°. Oil a large baking dish or roasting pan (deep 13 x 9 rectangle) or two.
Glaze the bottom of a large Dutch oven or soup pot with olive oil and place over medium-to-medium high heat (I use the pasta pot). Sauté onion and garlic until very, very soft but not browned, about 8 minutes.
Add meat if using. Break up and cook thoroughly with the onions and garlic. Season with your favorite herbs (I use basil and thyme), and take off of heat.
Add the marinara sauce and ricotta cheese. Stir until smooth. Check for seasoning and add red pepper flakes (if using).
Add the eggplant, including any juices that have collected while it cooked, and stir until well incorporated.
Add the pasta and blend well. If the sauce seems too dry, add a little water, more sauce, or if you really want to do the dog, cream. The pasta should be covered in enough sauce to stay moist while baking. Check for seasoning one last time. Stir in the mozzarella.
Place the mixture in the baking pans. If you like baked pasta that is deep and wet, pile it into one deep dish. If you like drier baked pasta with a crunchy top, spread it into two baking dishes. Top with additional mozzarella if you like.
For chewy, almost crunchy-topped pasta, do not cover. For softer, moister pasta, cover with aluminum foil.
Bake for 30-45 minutes until dish is bubbling hot throughout.