Quick and Easy

Pasta With Silkiest Eggplant Sauce From Francis Lam

July 26, 2021
4.6 Stars
Photo by Linda Xiao. Food Stylist: Sam Senevinatre. Prop Stylist: Brooke Deonarine.
  • Prep time 25 minutes
  • Cook time 25 minutes
  • Serves 4 as a main course, 6 as a starter
Author Notes

Eggplant can be a mystery. Will it brown handsomely or stick to the pan? Will its flesh relax or stay stiff and chewy? Will it be sweet or bitter? Is it a boy or a girl? (This last one is a red herring. See the tip below for what you should really be looking for.)

This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t cook eggplant. We should. Once we find a few recipes we trust, we can handle its ambiguities. But if you haven’t found yours, or you just don’t want to deal with it all, do as food writer and editor Francis Lam does: Let your eggplant go free. To avoid the texture struggles altogether, Lam harnesses eggplant’s affinity for oil and its talent for turning to mush, and makes pasta sauce out of it. You get all of the lovely eggplant flavor and silken texture, with none of the stress.

Best of all, it’s often sweltering outside during peak eggplant season—and unlike recipes that call for roasting, frying, or singeing over an open flame, this is all done on the stovetop, in a reasonable amount of time, over moderate heat, so you—like the eggplant—can go free, too.

A few more tips: Seek out fresh, not withered, eggplants that are heavy for their size with taut, firm skin; they’re much less likely to be seedy and bitter.

Feel free to take the flavors any direction you like, from fish sauce to chile oil to capers or other pickled bits (Francis has lots more ideas in the video below and on The Genius Recipe Tapes podcast). And use other vegetables that make good carriers for other flavors, like zucchini or cauliflower, adding more liquid as needed for ones that don’t give off white as much of their own.

Leftover pastas aren’t usually friendly to reheating. This eggplant pasta actually makes a nice cold or room temperature pasta salad the next day (not all do), but it also turns into a mean frittata. Tucking noodles into a pan of eggs, like Viana La Place and Evan Kleiman do in *Cucina Fresca,* means you can take advantage of their seasonings and springy texture, while protecting the pasta from further cooking. From the leftovers of leftovers files, the frittata, in turn, makes an excellent sandwich filling the next day.

Recipe from Food52 Genius Recipes: 100 Recipes That Will Change the Way You Cook, Ten Speed Press (April 2015).

Helpful tools for this recipe:
- Le Creuset Dutch Oven
- Italian Pasta Pot
- Five Two Wooden Spoons

Genius Recipes

Watch This Recipe
Pasta With Silkiest Eggplant Sauce From Francis Lam
Ingredients
  • Salt
  • 1 pound (450 grams) eggplant, cut into ½-inch (1.3-centimeter) slices
  • 1/3 cup (80 milliliters) extra-virgin olive oil, plus more to finish
  • 3 garlic cloves, lightly smashed
  • Leaves from 2 sprigs thyme or oregano, chopped
  • 1 cup (240 milliliters) stock or water (Lam even uses water leftover from cooking lentils)
  • 1 pound (450 grams) long pasta (spaghetti, linguine, whatever floats your boat)
  • 2 tablespoons minced sun-dried tomatoes
  • 6 leaves basil, cut into a chiffonade
  • Freshly ground black pepper
In This Recipe
Directions
  1. Lightly salt the slices of eggplant, stack them back together, and let it all hang out for 20 minutes. This will season it and water will drop out, allegedly removing the bitterness, if it’s there.
  2. Meanwhile, pour the olive oil into a wide, heavy saucepan, add the garlic cloves, and set over low heat. You’re just trying to get them friendly with one another, so don’t worry if nothing happens for a while.
  3. Dry off the eggplant and cut it into chunks. When you start hearing the garlic sizzle a little and can smell it, drop in your eggplant and stir to coat it all with oil. Turn up the heat a little bit to medium-high, add the thyme, and stir. When the eggplant starts to turn translucent and soften, add the liquid and let it come to a boil, then turn it back down to medium-low. Let it bubble for a bit and cover it, leaving a crack for steam to escape. Stir once in a while, so the bottom doesn’t stick.
  4. While the eggplant is softening, bring a large pot of water to boil, salt it, and cook the pasta to al dente.
  5. While the pasta is boiling, check on the eggplant. The liquid should be mostly absorbed or reduced after about 20 minutes. Once it looks mashable, mash it up with a spoon and adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper to taste. It should be silky-smooth and garlicky and humming with oil.
  6. Drain the pasta and toss with the eggplant purée. Stir in the tomatoes, basil, and pepper and gild the lily with some more oil to serve.

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • Ray Hannigan
    Ray Hannigan
  • panania
    panania
  • Cheryl
    Cheryl
  • Rosalind Paaswell
    Rosalind Paaswell
  • Kristen Miglore
    Kristen Miglore
Genius Recipes

Recipe by: Genius Recipes

14 Reviews

MamaBeasley December 28, 2021
Another keeper from Food52. My husband is vegan so I’m always looking for recipes to satisfy us both and this is definitely one!
 
CHRISTINE M. October 29, 2021
This is amazing! Be patient to let the eggplant to completely fall apart. Ultimate silky eggplant pasta with Sun dried tomatoes and fresh garden herbs: parsley, thyme, and basil. I tweaked the recipe by adding shallots, chicken stock, Italian red cayenne chili peppers, fresh cracked peppercorns, parsley, and a very light amount of Parmesan. A real keeper! Wonderful!
 
Ray H. September 26, 2021
This is a great recipe especially when the garden is slamming you with beautiful Rosa eggplants, you have made a few too many batches of Frankie Spuntino’s Eggplant Marinara (the Bomb) and you have run out of ideas. I’ll call this “Ragù Della Melanzane” — Essentially a beautiful vegetarian Eggplant Ragù.

I stuck to the recipe but used my own oven method sun dried tomatoes since I don’t love store bought. I was surprised there was no cheese at the end - I tried with and without and it doesn’t need cheese. A keeper.
 
Alice P. September 9, 2021
How can I make this dish into soup without thinning the flavors?
 
Daniel August 26, 2021
I used this technique the other day and it was really great! I found it really relaxing/refreshing to purposefully cook eggplant to mush and not have to worry about catching it at the perfect texture. I swapped some of the oil for butter, left out the herbs/tomato, and did the braising step with water plus teriyaki sauce ingredients (1-2 tbsp each of sake, mirin, and soy sauce). To finish I added a tiny splash of rice vinegar. Instead of pasta I mixed it with shredded roast chicken, and ate with a ton of black pepper :)
 
panania August 1, 2021
This recipe is great! I intentionally did not add the tomatoes or basil, because I wanted to taste it with no distractions. It was fantastic! The point about too much oil is well made. What happens is the eggplant sucks up all the oil in the pan when you start (I even had to add a little more just to keep some on the bottom of the pan), but after it browns on both sides (lid on) it begins to break down. That's when the eggplant releases the oil it took in. It was at this point that I drained out the excess. The rest is as instructed, except I added red pepper flakes (I always add red pepper flakes; nothing personal). I'm definitely adding it to my staple spaghetti dishes.
 
Adina A. July 28, 2021
I've been making this recipe for years, it's delicious and so easy. I like not having to bother with roasting and then peeling and scraping the eggplant off of the roasting pan.

I have a microwave steamer that I use to prep the eggplant instead of salting and blotting it, so I can just dump the eggplant out of the steamer and into the skillet.
 
Cheryl July 31, 2021
Hi Adina. Could you describe your microwave steamer and how you use it in this recipe ! Thanks
 
Adina A. August 3, 2021
It's a two-piece silicone set, essentially a flat-bottomed bowl and a close-fitting lid. You put vegetables (or whatever) in it with a little water and then microwave. What I do for this recipe is that I cut the eggplant into big chunks, add water, and steam for 5 minutes; if there's more eggplant than will fit, I do it in batches.
I read an article in Serious Eats where someone mentioned steaming eggplant instead of salting it and letting it sit and then drying it off. For me, microwave steaming works and is a lot less fussy.
 
Cheryl August 6, 2021
Thank you! That's really helpful!
 
Rosalind P. January 4, 2022
steaming the eggplant is truly a genius way to do this. I stumbled on the method because I found the other way too much work (I'm lazy) and it had uneven results. Steam in the microwave, yes,in with any bowl and cover but you can steam on the stovetop too. Just enough to soften and collapse those air pockets. It makes the oil go twice as far. I can't imagine doing the salting/wiping ever. I have another hint: I always have frozen pureed basil (and parsley and cilantro) in my freezer, because I can almost NEVER use a whole bunch before it rots. Process in a food processor with oa little oil or even a bit of water, freeze in ice cube size (I use a clean, styrofoam egg carton). Once frozen, they stay conveniently separate. Toss into whatever you're cooking without defrosting. It's such a great hack for me.
 
judy July 28, 2021
Eggplant sauce sounds intriguing. I like eggplant in any form. But this seems to be pretty heavy on the oil. I know that would make it silky. but what if the eggplant were roasted in the skin, allowed to sit for a bit and then removed? Mash it up and it would also be silky smooth, but without the effort of cooking in oil and significantly reduced calories. A small amount of oil can be added into the mash for the flavor it imparts. And there might be the added benefit of a smoky/roasted back note or two. But I like the idea and will give it a shot, using the mash for pasta sauce following the rest of the recipe ingredients. Thanks so much.
 
Ace July 28, 2021
Agreed, roasting is preferable.. and use a potato masher, add fresh herbs just before serving… a splash of olive oil, maybe red pepper flakes
 
Kristen M. August 5, 2021
If less oil is more to your tastes, go for it—I love the garlicky oil here and think it contributes a lot to the overall flavor and texture (and is for an entire pound of pasta, so it goes a long way). But I've tried a riffed version with more eggplant relative to oil and it was tasty too, just a bit less silky and more sticky.