Pasta with eggplant
Eggplants are one of the many common points between my home country Turkey and my chosen love-affair Italy. In Turkey we say there are 100 dishes involving eggplants (Would it suffice as proof if I start counting with eggplant jam which adorns many breakfast tables across southeast Anatolia?), and Italian cuisine, oops, I mean many regional cuisines in Italy, especially the southern ones, abound with eggplant dishes as well.
So it was a shock for me the first time I realized that there are, in the western world, people who don’t know what an eggplant is. A lot of them. Or have come across it somewhere but don’t like it. Most often I hear “it is so slimy”, followed by “it is bitter”. It seems like the Turks and the Italians (and a lot of middle eastern cultures who love eggplants) have kept it a big secret that there is a cure against both and that the results are well worth the effort.
To be honest, an eggplant per se is pretty tasteless. Yes, there is the bitterness, but other than that… This is why this fruit (yes, it is a fruit!) makes a perfect base for other flavors! You have to grill it (mmmh, smoke), or ladle it up with tomato sauce, or fry it (need I say in extra virgin olive oil), so that it can turn into something laden with complex aromas. And the bitterness is easily broken: Just slice the eggplant (thickness according to the recipe you will follow), pour a lot of salt (preferably coarse salt) on the pieces, and rinse after half an hour or so. Pat dry with paper towels and you are all set to go.
This pasta with eggplants (pastasciutta means basically any dried pasta, usually without eggs, just drum wheat flour and water) has been on my repertoire for some years now, a quick dish that will satisfy a lot of cravings at once: the carbs (T. and I, we could eat pasta everyday! He almost does, I try not to), the freshness, the savory taste, especially welcome during the holiday season where it seems like we are eating only cookies and desserts!
And if you find it still tastes bitter, regard it as the perfect occasion to drink that south Italian or Spanish young red wine with a lot of tannins that is probably sitting somewhere around your apartment. An oaky nero d’avola from Sicily or a simple but heavy rioja from Spain will become tame confronted with eggplants and both will profit from each other. Do try this combination out!
pasta with eggplants
adapted from a traditional Sicilian recipe in
Ricettario della cucina regionale italiana – Accademia Italiana della Cucina
prep: 10 mins + 30 mins wait
cook: 10 mins
eggplants, 2 large violet ones
mozzarella, 1 (~ 250g, or ricotta salata, 100g)
basil leaves, a handful
garlic, 1-2 cloves
olive oil, 4 tbsp
coarse salt, 2 cups
Wash and dry the eggplants. Slice them into 1cm thick slices. Place on a tray, sprinkle with the salt. Leave for around half an hour or longer if you have the time. Some juice will trickle out of the slices. Rinse well, pat dry with paper towels. Cut the slices into cubes of ca. 1cm edges.
Cook the spaghetti according to package instructions (In abundant salted boiling water, 8-10 mins). In the meantime, heat up the olive oil in a heavy and large pan. Saute the garlic cloves and the eggplant pieces in the hot oil. Add black pepper to taste. Cut the mozzarella to small pieces. If using ricotta salata, crumble it in a dish.
When the pasta is cooked al dente (start trying 1 minute before the stated cooking time on the package), drain it, mix it with the contents of the pan. You might want to add some more olive oil if the pasta is sticking.
Serve on warmed plates. Garnish with mozzarella pieces and basil leaves.