I have to admit that I was lucky the first few times that I cooked eggplant; I never ended up with that mushy, chewy texture that most people dislike — until recently. I got lazy/overconfident and thought it would be OK if I used a somewhat soft eggplant without trying to take some of the moisture out of it — big mistake. So I learned the hard way that whenever you have an eggplant that has a soft, spongy center (and you don't feel like salting, draining and rinsing it), then simply lop off the seedy area. There's usually enough meat to go around and you'll end up with a silky, creamy and flavorful vegetable.
This pasta dish is quick, easy and becomes even more delicious as the mozzarella melts into the hot pasta, adding a thick creaminess to the dish.
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more if needed
- 2 large firm eggplants, cut into 1-inch cubes (soft, spongy seeds removed if necessary)
- Dried oregano, to taste
- Red chile flakes, to taste (optional)
- Salt, to taste
- Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- 2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
- One 28-ounce can whole tomatoes, preferably San Marzano
- 1 pound good quality penne pasta, or any shape you like
- 1 tablespoon freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano (optional)
- 1 ball of good-quality mozzarella, preferably fresh Buffalo
- ¼ cup parsley or basil, chopped, for garnish (optional)
In a pan over medium-high heat, warm the oil. Then cook the eggplant in 2 batches, seasoning with salt, pepper, oregano and chile flakes, if using, until a light golden color all over, about 3-5 minutes per batch. Add more oil as needed for the second batch (but try not to get the eggplants too greasy). When the second batch is done, add the rest of the cooked eggplant to the pan, then the garlic and quickly stir. Add the tomatoes, re-season to taste, then simmer over medium heat, covered, stirring occasionally for about 25-30 minutes. Taste each time you stir, and re-season if necessary. (I like it spicy so I keep adding chile flakes, but that's totally up to you).
Meanwhile, place a pot of water over high heat and bring to a boil, adding enough salt so that the water tastes salty.
Add the pasta and cook according to the package directions, then drain, reserving a little of the cooking water (about 1/4 cup). Add the pasta back to the pot with the cooking water and add the Parmigiano-Reggiano, if using. Toss, then add the tomato-eggplant sauce to the pasta pot, combine and cook for a few minutes over medium-low heat.
Divide the pasta between the plates, and tear-up the mozzarella ball with your hands (or you can use a knife it cut it, but tearing is more fun), distributing the pieces amongst the plates. Add the parsley, if using, and serve.