Eggplant. That word may still be enough to strike a fair amount of fear into this household. If you’ve read my blog over the past couple of months, you may know that our garden gave us a fair number of eggplant from late summer into fall. Too many. Enough that I was actually considering leaving a bag of them on my neighbor’s doorsteps! Our plants have since died out in the cooler temperatures so this may be one of the last eggplant recipes that you see from me for awhile.
The basic idea for this dish comes from Isabelle of Crumb, however I pre-cooked the eggplant based on a recipe from Cook’s Illustrated. In CI, they explain that cooking with eggplant has 2 problems: 1) It has a fair amount of water that when baked, will water down your dish, and 2) It’s full of air pockets that will soak up any oil that is used in the dish. Their solution? Wrapping it in paper towels and pre-cooking it in the microwave for a few minutes before adding it to the dish. The cooking time collapses the air pockets, leaving no room for the oil, and the paper towels will soak up any extra water. Makes perfect sense, and it is so easy that I may never make an eggplant dish without first doing this step.
Out of all the things that we made with our eggplant, this dish is my favorite. The ingredients are pretty unassuming – eggplant, pasta, a homemade tomato sauce, and fresh mozzarella, but the combination is stellar. Good enough that I’d even consider planting another plant again. Well, maybe in a few months. Just remind me at that time that it is not a good idea to grow 6 plants of 1 type of vegetable for only 2 people 🙂
Eggplant Parmesan Pasta Bake
Adapted from Crumb and cooking methods from Cook’s Illustrated
1 medium eggplant, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 lb. whole wheat rigatoni, ziti, or penne pasta
1 Tbsp. olive oil, divided
1 medium onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1 can (14oz) low-sodium diced tomatoes with juices
1/4 cup dry red wine
1/2 tsp. dried oregano
1/4 tsp. dried basil
generous pinch red pepper flakes
about 1/3-lb. fresh mozzarella, thinly sliced
1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Toss eggplant with the salt in a large bowl. Line surface of a plate with a double layer of paper towels or coffee filters. Spread eggplant in even layers over filters. Microwave eggplant, uncovered, until dry to touch and slightly shriveled, about 10 minutes, tossing once halfway through to ensure that the eggplant cooks evenly. Let cool slightly.
Meanwhile, boil water to cook the pasta. Cook al dente, as directed by the package. Drain and rinse under cold water when finished cooking. Set aside.
Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened and browning, about 8-10 minutes. Add eggplant and cook 2-3 minutes until warmed through. Add the tomatoes with juices, red wine, oregano, basil, and red pepper flakes to the eggplant mixture. Cook uncovered for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Taste the sauce and add salt and pepper if needed. Add the pasta and stir to combine. Pour into a prepared 1-quart baking dish. Distribute the sliced mozzarella over the pasta and then sprinkle with Parmesan cheese.
Bake for 20 minutes, until the sauce is bubbling and the cheese is starting to brown. Let sit for about 5 minutes before serving.