- Prep time 25 minutes
- Cook time 25 minutes
- Serves 4 as a main course, 6 as a starter
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
(450 grams) eggplant, cut into ½-inch (1.3-centimeter) slices
(80 milliliters) extra-virgin olive oil, plus more to finish
garlic cloves, lightly smashed
Leaves from 2 sprigs thyme or oregano, chopped
(240 milliliters) stock or water (Lam even uses water leftover from cooking lentils)
(450 grams) long pasta (spaghetti, linguine, whatever floats your boat)
minced sun-dried tomatoes
leaves basil, cut into a chiffonade
Freshly ground black pepper
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- While the eggplant is softening, bring a large pot of water to boil, salt it, and cook the pasta to al dente.
- 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.
- 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.