Thursday, September 9, 2010

Pasta with Eggplant, Peppers, Olives & Capers

With every passing season I acquire a few new pasta recipes to add to my pile of favorites. I know I have mentioned before that I never seem to tire of pasta. To me, it is the ultimate one dish meal...a great background for showcasing the ever changing parade of the vegetable harvest.

This time of year, I love pastas that feature eggplant, tomatoes and sweet peppers. Last summer while I was preparing for a class featuring the cookbook Local Flavors by Deborah Madison, I tried her recipe for Robust End-of-the-Summer Spaghetti. As one might expect from the title, this pasta includes all three of these late summer vegetables. The "robustness" comes from the flavorful additions of salty accents, like capers and olives, a generous amount of dried oregano and an extended simmer to blend all of these great flavors.

Because the class I was working on was based on her book, I made the pasta the first time exactly as directed by her recipe. And it was very good. So good that, as we have moved into eggplant, tomato and pepper season this year, I have made it at least four, maybe five, times. But since it is no longer necessary that I follow the recipe exactly, I have been tweaking it a little each time I have made it. 

First, because I didn't have any anchovies and parsley on hand, I left them out.  I love anchovies, but I liked this dish just fine without them.  Then, instead of charring the peppers to soften them a bit before cooking them with the onions, I decided to add them raw to the pan with the onions. The onions cook a bit longer this way and have a chance to caramelize a little while the peppers soften. 

At some point I made the switch from a yellow onion to a red onion.   This was probably because that was what I had in my pantry, but I like red onions and peppers together.  The last time I made the sauce, I decided to dice and roast the eggplant.  In the original version, Madison slices and broils the eggplant and then cuts the cooked eggplant slices crosswise into strips before adding them to the sauce.  

I liked my last version so much that I thought I would write it down—for future reference for myself and also for my best friend from college. I made this pasta while I was visiting her last month and she and her family liked it so much that she requested the recipe.

Now, as I compare this recipe to Deborah Madison's original, I'm not sure she would recognize it as her recipe. But it is close enough that I should definitely give her credit for the inspiration. There was nothing wrong with the original recipe, it is just that, like any experienced cook, I have preferred methods and taste preferences that govern the way I choose to execute a recipe.  I hope you will give this pasta a try and that you will feel free to tweak it to your heart's content--making it your own so that you can add it to your pile of favorites.

Pasta with Eggplant, Peppers, Olives & Capers

3 T. olive oil, divided—plus more for finishing
1 eggplant (about 12 oz. to 1 lb.), topped & tailed and cut in a 1/2- to 3/4-inch dice
salt & pepper, to taste
1/2 a medium red onion, diced (about 1/4-inch)
1 red or yellow bell peppers, trimmed and diced (about 1/3-inch)
1 cloves garlic, minced
1 lb. vine ripened tomatoes, peeled, seeded (juices reserved) and chopped
1 1/2 T. capers, rinsed
1/4 cup mixed green & black olives, pitted and coarsely chopped
1/2 T. dried oregano
1/2 lb. pasta (penne, rigatoni or gemelli)
1/3 cup finely grated pecorino (1 oz.)

Toss the eggplant in a tablespoon of olive oil and season with salt & pepper. Spread the eggplant on a baking sheet and roast 425°, stirring once about half to two-thirds of the way through the cooking time. The eggplant is done when it is golden and tender—about 20 to 25 minutes total. Set aside.

While the eggplant roasts, heat 2 T. olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the onion and peppers along with a generous pinch of salt. Sauté until the onions and peppers are just tender—about 10 to 15 minutes. The onions will begin to caramelize a bit, but if the vegetables begin to color too quickly, reduce the heat.  Add the garlic and cook until fragrant.

Measure the reserved tomato juices and add enough water to make 1/4 cup. Add the tomatoes, along with their juices, to the pan with the onions and peppers and bring to a simmer. Add the eggplant, capers, olives and oregano.

Season with salt & pepper and gently simmer (uncovered) for about a half hour, stirring occasionally, to allow the flavors to blend.

Bring 6 quarts of water to the boil in a large stock/pasta pot. Add 2 tablespoons of salt. Add the pasta and cook until al dente. When the pasta is ready, drain in a colander, being sure to reserve some of the pasta cooking water. Add the pasta to the sauce and toss well, adding some of the pasta water if the sauce seems dry. Drizzle with a little olive oil and toss again. Serve with a generous shower of Pecorino. Serves 2 to 3 (recipe easily doubles to serve 5 or 6).

1 comment:

Jennifer said...

LOOKS ABSOLUTELY DELICIOUS! Just went to the store and will be making this ASAP. Great photos!