I love going to the farmers market, but I can’t count the number of times I’ve walked past all the beautiful fruit and vegetables and then stopped and thought, “but what am I actually going to cook?” Instead of standing in front of a crate of eggplants and Googling easy eggplant recipes – or just buying a muffin and a few peaches and calling it a day- I wanted to come up with a great summer dish that would make use of those abundant peak-of-summer vegetables.
This recipe combines eggplant and sweet cherry tomatoes in a pasta that’s light, simple, and really flavorful. Instead of the classic summer go-tos, basil, mozzarella and balsamic, I used Sicilian flavors and ingredients- hot red pepper flakes, garlic, anchovy and golden raisins- and came up with a sauce that’s spicy, savory and just a little bit sweet. It’s almost like rigatoni with a summery caponata on top.
This pasta is great for potlucks and summer cookouts because it’s delicious both warm and at room temperature. If you’re planning ahead, you could even make the sauce and grill the eggplant in advance, and then cook the pasta and toss everything together at the last minute. And if you omit the anchovy paste, the pasta will not only be vegetarian, but vegan, too. (woooo!) That said, if you aren’t vegetarian, I highly recommend including the anchovy. It’s subtle, but adds great depth of flavor to the sauce.
Pasta with Spicy Eggplant and Tomato Caponata
- 1½ pounds eggplant (about 2 small eggplants)
- ⅓ cup olive oil, plus more as needed
- 1/2 cup golden raisins
- ¼ cup sherry vinegar
- 4 cups cherry tomatoes (2 pints)
- 4 small garlic cloves, smashed and peeled
- 1/2 teaspoon anchovy paste
- 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
- 1 pound rigatoni, penne, or ziti
- 1/3 cup pine nuts
- 1/3 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- Prepare a charcoal grill with a single layer of hot coals, set a gas grill to medium-high heat, or heat a stovetop grill pan over medium-heat high. Slice the eggplant into 1/2-inch rounds, brush the eggplant slices generously with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and grill for 3-5 minutes on each side, until charred and cooked through. Set aside to cool. Once the eggplant has cooled, cut each slice into 1-inch pieces. Alternatively, you can dice the eggplant into ¾-inch pieces, toss with 2 tablespoons olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and roast for 25-30 minutes at 400 degrees, tossing occasionally, until softened and browned.
- Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil, and begin the sauce. In a very large (12-inch) sauté pan or a Dutch oven, combine the raisins and vinegar and cook over low heat until the vinegar has completely evaporated, about 5 minutes. Transfer to a small bowl and set aside.
- In the same pan, heat the olive oil, tomatoes, garlic, anchovy paste, red pepper flakes, and 1½ teaspoons salt over medium heat. Bring to a simmer, then turn the heat to medium-low and cook for 10 to 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the tomatoes have burst and are starting to break down. Add the eggplant and the raisins and cook for 5 more minutes.
- Cook the pasta according to the directions on the package. Drain and add to the sauce (or transfer everything to the pasta pot if you need more room.) Add the pine nuts and parsley, reserving about 2 tablespoons of each for the top, and toss gently. Sprinkle the pasta with the reserved pine nuts and parsley, sprinkle lightly with salt, and serve.