Eggplants have been one of my favorite foods since childhood. (I credit this blog's co-proprietor, my beloved mother, for introducing me to the many splendors of these noble purple globes.) I learned how to oven-roast them to perfection a couple of years ago. I've also gotten pretty good, if I may say so myself, at cooking up a simple fresh tomato sauce in the summers. Cue lightbulb: Why not combine these two delightful dinners?
If you look up most recipes for Spaghetti alla Norma, they'll tell you to fry the eggplant in a pan. I like my way better – the roasted flavor pairs very nicely with the tomato-onion-garlic sauce, and the eggplant gets to a nice creamy texture. (Traditional recipes also include ricotta salata, which I leave out; cheese-lovers can modify this recipe by stirring in some ricotta or parmesan toward the end.)
I made this recipe last night with all-fresh ingredients from our CSA and the Morningside Park Farmers Market. We served it over whole-wheat spaghetti. Really good! It was even better this afternoon, after we left it in the fridge with the pasta mixed in.
If you're not into eggplant (and why not?), or don't have any handy, you can skip straight to step 5 for a basic tomato sauce. You can also add some chopped green peppers around step 10 instead of the eggplant.
Serving suggestion: Goes well with Israeli salad and plum crisp for dessert!
4-5 cloves fresh garlic
1 medium yellow onion or 2-3 small ones
2-4 medium tomatoes, as ripe as you can get 'em (assorted colors if possible)
2 handfuls cherry tomatoes (I like yellow ones)
2 medium dark-purple eggplants
1 small hot pepper, habanero or similar (optional)
half a lemon
4-5 leaves fresh basil
spaghetti or other long pasta, prepared as usual
Serves two, with plentiful leftovers.
1. Pre-heat oven to 400°. While oven is heating, cut eggplant into roughly one-inch cubes. Leave the skin on.
2. Toss eggplant pieces in a mixing bowl with 2-3 capfuls olive oil (I like the garlic-infused kind) plus a healthy dash of salt and pepper.
3. Spread eggplant pieces in a roasting pan. It's important not to crowd the pan – use two or more roasting pans if needed. Try to put most of the eggplant pieces skin side down. Drizzle a little more olive oil if it looks like any pieces need it.
4. Roast eggplant for ~25 minutes. Check on it halfway through; shake the pieces around the pan a little to make sure they're roasting evenly. When done, take the eggplant out of the oven and put it aside to cool.
5. While the eggplant is roasting, peel and crush the garlic or chop it into little pieces (as small as you can).
6. Heat some olive oil in a French oven type cooking pot; add garlic when the oil is getting hot, and cook at medium heat, stirring often, until garlic is starting to turn golden brown.
7. Peel and dice the onion. Add to the pot when garlic has colored as described above. Add some salt and black pepper. Keep cooking, stirring often, until the onion has turned semi-translucent.
8. Chop the tomatoes into smallish hunks. You can scoop out the tomato seeds if you want, but I don't bother. Try to preserve as much juice as you can. When the onion is ready as described above, add the tomatoes and their juice to the pot.
9. Halve the cherry tomatoes and add them to the pot. Stir well.
10. Squeeze the lemon into the pot; rescue any seeds that fall in.
11. Chop the hot pepper very finely and add to pot if desired. You can also substitute a little crushed red chili pepper if you don't have fresh peppers and want a spicy kick.
12. Cover the pot. Cook at medium-low heat, stirring every so often, until the tomatoes are starting to break down and release their juices (about 10 minutes).
13. Chop the fresh basil. Add basil, a dash of oregano, maybe a little more salt and pepper, and stir well. Cook for another 5-10 minutes, stirring often, as tomatoes break down further and form a sauce.
13. When the sauce has become fully sauce-like, stir in the roasted eggplant pieces.
14. Uncover the pot and cook for another 5 minutes, stirring often, until the eggplant is just starting to fall apart in the sauce.
15. Let cool for about 10 minutes. Serve over warm al dente pasta, or mix the cooked pasta right into the sauce pot. Grate some cheese over the plate if you like. Mmm!