This recipe came from Runner’s World magazine.
(If you’re wondering why that’s funny… well, let’s just say I am not exactly a runner. I did actually complete a half marathon once, but that was a special case. And I have had this foot issue that was only recently [partly] resolved so I didn’t run at ALL for a full year. So there’s that. Plus, who would think Runner’s World would have good recipes, when Bon Appetit never does?)
Right. Well, I will vouch for this one. It isn’t terribly difficult, but it does involve an ingredient that may be alarming to some vegetable-phobic members of your family. I don’t think I had ever eaten eggplant before, let alone cooked it. But it wasn’t too bad, even though I am almost positive I overcooked it (instructions on how not to do that will follow).
Here’s the thing with eggplant: It has a lot of air in it, so if you don’t salt and drain it before cooking it will soak up a ton of oil (thanks for the info, Isabel and University of Illinois Extension!). So after you peel it (with a regular vegetable peeler, though I found it harder to peel than a potato) and chop it up, sprinkle it with salt and set it on a bunch of paper towels or in a colander for at least 20 minutes. Probably more. And then pat it dry before you dust it with flour.
In addition to the eggplant, you will need a double recipe of that multi-functional marinara (you can call it pomodoro, if you prefer), some ricotta cheese and my favorite type of pasta: rigatoni.
The recipe said to saute half the (lightly floured) eggplant until brown on the outside but tender on the inside. It gave no indication of how long this might take. I would recommend stirring it often and taking it off the heat when it is just lightly browned. It will cook some more once you put it in the tomato sauce at the end. This took somewhere in the neighborhood of 10-15 minutes.
Ricotta cheese is a fun addition to this recipe, but it’s not completely necessary. You could just use a sprinkle (or much more than a sprinkle, if you’re me) of Parmesan instead.
I hate soggy pasta, and I think some people might say I tend to undercook it. But I learned something fun from this article. If you undercook your pasta by about two minutes, then add it to the sauce and cook it in the sauce a bit, it will absorb more of the sauce’s flavor. Brilliant! Just be sure not to cook it all the way before dumping it in there, or you will have the dreaded mushy noodles.
Rigatoni alla Norma* (adapted from Runner’s World) Serves 6
Multi-functional marinara, doubled
1 medium eggplant
About 4 tablespoons flour
2 garlic cloves, crushed (you can smoosh them with the side of your knife. Just don’t cut yourself!)
3 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
1 pound rigatoni
6 tablespoons ricotta cheese
(I am writing this as though you have not prepared the marinara in advance. If you have and it is cold, start heating it on medium-low heat when you’re cooking the eggplant.)
Peel and cut the eggplant into roughly 1-inch cubes. Sprinkle with salt, then place on paper towels or in a colander to drain for about 30 minutes. Prepare the marinara ingredients and begin cooking the sauce (make sure it simmers for at LEAST 20 minutes, though 30-45 is preferable).
When eggplant is ready, place a pot of salted** water on the stove to boil. Dust eggplant with flour. In a saute pan on medium, saute one garlic clove in 1 1/2 tablespoons oil until golden. Add half the eggplant and saute until lightly browned on the outside but tender inside (about 10 minutes). Place on paper towels to drain excess oil. Repeat with 1 1/2 tablespoons oil and remaining garlic and eggplant.
(If you like onions, you can now saute one thinly sliced onion in a tablespoon of oil — until tender. Then add it to the sauce).
Add pasta to boiling water. Two minutes before pasta is cooked***, remove from water and add with the eggplant to the tomato sauce (with some pasta water, if the sauce isn’t liquid enough). Cook mixture few more minutes, until pasta is tender. Divide into six servings. Top each with a tablespoon of ricotta.
*In Runner’s World it says “a la Norma,” but I’m pretty sure “a la” is French. I think “alla” is Italian, but I could be wrong. I minored in Spanish and took three semesters of Russian — no Italian.
**Italians say pasta water should be as salty as the sea… but I’m clearly not Italian. Do sprinkle at least a little salt in your pasta water, though.
***I usually cook my pasta for about 2 minutes less than it says on the box, so for this I cooked it about 4 minutes less than it said on the box. You don’t want it totally hard/dry, but you also don’t want it ready to eat.