Almost any restaurant in Italy, features this pasta dish on the menu. I created a lighter version of this famous dish by baking the eggplant instead of sautéing. The red pepper, balances the acidity of the tomatoes and adds a light sweetness.
- 4 large eggplants (about 700gr), diced in 2-3 cm pieces
- 1/3 cup olive oil plus 3 Tbs extra
- some fresh thyme (or dry)
- 3 garlic cloves, crushed
- 1 red pepper (capsicum), chopped
- ½ cup good quality white wine
- 1 ½ cup tomato passata
- about 10 fresh basil leaves
- 1 Tbs cream
- salt and freshly ground pepper
- 500gr Rigatoni pasta
- 125gr fresh mozzarella, torn
- freshly grated parmesan to serve
Preheat oven to 220 C (430 F). Put the diced eggplants in a baking tray and drizzle with the 1/3 cup olive oil. Sprinkle with the thyme, salt and freshly ground black pepper. Bake for 30 minutes, stirring once.
Prepare the sauce while eggplants bake. In a large saucepan (you will mix everything in this pan so make sure its big enough to fit pasta, eggplants and sauce) over medium heat, add 3 tablespoons olive oil. Throw in the garlic and cook stirring for about a minute. Don’t burn the garlic, or it will taste bitter. Add the red pepper and cook for another minute until soft. Increase heat to high and add red wine. Let the alcohol evaporate for a minute or so. Reduce heat to medium low and add the tomatoes, basil leaves, salt and freshly ground black pepper. Let the sauce simmer for 5 minutes, until slightly thicker. Stir in the cream and take off the heat.
In a large pot bring plenty of salted water to boil. Add the pasta and cook 2 minutes less than the time indicated on the packet instructions. Drain pasta but reserve one-two cups of the starchy cooking water. Add the eggplants and pasta to the tomato sauce. Stir gently over low heat for a couple of minutes, to distribute all the ingredients and let the flavours blend together. If mixture is too thick add some of the pasta cooking water. Turn off the heat and add the fresh mozzarella. Serve with freshly grated parmesan and a generous sprinkle of freshly ground black pepper.