It’s that time of year: time to shake out the sweaters, shine the apples, and celebrate fall. I’d be more than willing to, except the weather in California is anything but fall-like and the gardens here are still brimming with late-summer produce. Add to that the fact I just scored a load of eggplant from some very generous friends with some very green thumbs and, well, I’ve been cooking with eggplant like it’s the height of the summer. But the great thing about eggplant is it has a long growing season that lasts into October (at least around these parts), so I figure it’s fair game to cook with. At least until I see a leaf change color or feel the need to pull out a scarf.
Late-Summer Roasted Eggplant Pasta Recipe
This is a simple pasta I throw together whenever eggplant is in season yet the weather is just cool enough to turn on the oven without melting. Roasting the eggplant allows you to get the same flavor you’d have from pan-fried eggplant, but with a fraction of the effort and far less fat. But my favorite part of this recipe is that it has a sort of split personality going on. You can serve it as written, or, if the weather’s already cooling off in your area, you can stir the pasta, cheese, and pasta sauce together so it becomes an instant, no fuss pink sauce.
Makes: 4 servings
Total Time: 1 hour
Hands-On Time: 20 minutes
4 medium Japanese eggplant (or 1 large globe eggplant), ends trimmed
3 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for garnish
4 sprigs of fresh thyme or oregano
12 ounces penne pasta
4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1 (14 ounce) can tomato puree
1 tablespoons balsamic or sherry vinegar
1 teaspoon unrefined granulated sugar (optional)
1 handful fresh Italian parsley leaves, thinly sliced
3 ounces feta or goat cheese, crumbled
Heat oven to 450°F and arrange a rack in the middle. Cut eggplant into 1-inch cubes then combine with 2 tbsp of the olive oil and the thyme or oregano in a medium bowl. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper and toss to combine. Spread on a foil-lined baking sheet in one even layer and roast, stirring occasionally, until soft and golden brown, 20 to 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, bring a large pot of heavily salted water to a boil over high heat. When it boils, cook pasta according to package directions. Reserve 1 cup of pasta water and drain pasta. Set aside. Meanwhile, heat remaining 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a a large frying pan over medium-high heat. When it shimmers, add garlic and cook until golden brown and fragrant. Stir in vinegar and cook until the vinegar is gone. Stir in tomatoes, season with salt, reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer, stirring occasionally, until slightly thickened, about 10 minutes. Stir in eggplant and simmer until heated through. Taste, and, add more vinegar is sauce is sweet, or, as needed, add sugar to make the sauce sweeter.
Add reserved pasta and stir to coat. Add 1/4 cup of the reserved pasta water and stir unti each piece of pasta is just coated with the sauce. Add additional pasta water as needed to help the sauce coat the pasta. Remove from heat, stir in parsley and season with additional salt and pepper, as desired.
Divide pasta among serving bowls, top each some of the cheese, drizzle with a bit of additional olive oil and serve.