If you’re a member of our CSA, then you likely know how versatile (and delicious) eggplant is! Eggplant grows right along our heirloom tomatoes in high tunnels, and we enjoy it throughout the season. During the summer I love to grill and stir-fry eggplant, but in when there’s a chill in the air a hearty pasta or pizza is the way to go.
This is an easy, straight-forward recipe that any cook can master, with one twist. The eggplant is “sweated” to draw out the moisture and season, then fried until golden before baking. I know it sounds like a lot of extra work, but it turns the eggplant into silky and flavorful little cubes. The technique is lifted from a Smitten Kitchen recipe, borrowed from vegetable mastermind Ottolenghi. If you just can’t do the extra work, just simmer your eggplant cubes in the sauce before baking the pasta.
A lot of people salt their eggplant before cooking to remove bitterness, and there’s really a big debate on the subject! Our eggplants are very fresh – they make it to our CSA members within a day or two of harvest and when we salt eggplant it has more to do with flavor and texture. If you haven’t cooked a lot of eggplant, check out our quick video for a glimpse into how versatile this vegetable really is!
If you have a shallow oven-proof dutch oven you can make the whole thing in one dish. Start with the eggplant, then simmer the quick sauce, toss everything together with very al dente noodles, cover with cheese, bake. I actually made 2 baked pasta dishes side by side, and the more shallow dish wins in my opinion, the top gets toasty crunchy. A deeper rectangular dish is good, just different.
Save the pasta water for tossing everything together, it’s the secret to a perfect sauce. A lot of American cooks toss pasta in oil, but that actually prevents the sauce from sticking to noodles. This can easily be doubled to feed a crowd, and I probably don’t need to point out that crumbled sausage or ground beef really up the ante. If you wanted to make it vegan, just skip the cheese and baking. Serve the pasta and eggplant tossed with the sauce.
Eggplant Baked Ziti
8 oz penne, ziti, or any tube shaped noodles
1 large or 2 small eggplant, any variety
14 oz can crushed tomatoes
1 onion, diced
2 cloves minced garlic
2 tablespoons olive oil
canola oil for frying
pinch of oregano & crushed red pepper
salt and pepper
1 cup grated mozzarella
1/2 cup grated parmesan
Preheat the oven to 375°F
Boil the pasta to very al dente, about 2 minutes less than the suggested cooking time. It will finish cooking in the oven. Reserve about 1/2 cup cooking water.
Dice the eggplant, place in a colander, then generously season with salt. Let sit for about 20 minutes, until you can see moisture on the surface. Drain, and dry on a clean dish towel.
Heat about an inch of canola oil over high heat in a shallow, oven-proof pot. When the oily is very shimmery, fry the eggplant in batches until golden on all sides. Drain in mesh colander or on paper towels. Carefully pour the oil into an empty can or container and let cool. Wipe out the pot.
In the same pot, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onions and garlic and cook until everything is soft, translucent, and starting to turn golden. Add the tomatoes, oregano, and crushed red pepper. Simmer for about 10 minutes, then taste and season with salt and pepper. Turn off the heat and add the drained pasta and eggplant to the pot. Add a spash of the pasta water and toss to combine, adding more pasta water if necessary until everything is combined. Top with the cheese.
Bake pasta for 20 – 25 minutes until golden and bubbly. Let cook for 5 minutes before serving.
* You can make this in a casserole, just cook the eggplant and sauce in a pot, then transfer to an oiled casserole dish.
**Gluten free or whole wheat pasta works well here.