I really love the way that food blogging has pushed me outside my comfort zone to try new things, to challenge myself in the kitchen, and to give certain foods a second chance. I was a pretty fussy child, as I’ve mentioned before. As well as spinach, I didn’t eat eggs, seafood, mushrooms, and I was never a huge fan of eggplant.
My dad always told me that when I was older I’d try these foods again and like them, and I think he was onto something. I still can’t eat plain eggs (hard boiled or poached, bleh!), but I have discovered the wonder of omelettes studded with fresh tomatoes and herbs. I’m still working on the mushrooms and seafood, but as far as eggplant is concerned, I think I’m converted.
Trust Jamie Oliver to seduce me with an absolutely beautiful looking pasta dish. It feels like I’ve been cooking a lot of Jamie’s recipes lately, with a couple more planned for the near future. The more of his cookbooks I read, the more I want to spend an afternoon with him, sitting in the pub, drinking good beer and chatting food. He just seems like a cool guy. I also love the way his recipes are written, almost like a casual conversation with a friend, sharing useful advice along with the instructions.
The eggplant in this dish plays a supporting role to the richness of the tomatoes and the creamy mozzarella but its presence is noticeable, enough to add interest and variation to an otherwise quite simple tomato sauce. It also comes together pretty quickly from mostly basic pantry ingredients, making it a nice weeknight meal that can be put together without too much forethought. I think the sauce would also be wonderful in a lasagne. It tastes great with or without the mozzarella, but make sure to use the freshest herbs you can find, it really makes a difference.
Penne with Eggplant, Tomatoes and Mozzarella
Adapted from Jamie’s Dinners by Jamie Oliver
Serves 4 hungry people
• Extra virgin olive oil
• 1 medium eggplant, nice and firm and ripe
• 2 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced
• ½ onion, peeled and finely chopped
• 2 x 400g cans plum tomatoes
• 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
• ½ cup red wine
• Sea salt & pepper
• 50g salted butter
• 2 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped
• ¼ cup thick cream
• 500g uncooked rigatoni or penne
• ½ cup fresh basil leaves, torn or roughly chopped
• 100g cow’s milk mozzarella
• Parmesan, to serve
1. Remove both ends of the eggplant and slice into 1cm slices. Slice these across and finely dice into 1cm cubes.
2. Heat 4-5 tablespoons of olive oil in a large saucepan. Add the eggplant, stirring them around so they are completely coated with oil. Cook for 7-8 minutes on medium heat
3. Add the garlic and onion. When they have a little colour, add the tomatoes, vinegar and wine. Season with salt and pepper. Add the butter and simmer for about 25 minutes. Add the cream and season again if necessary.
4. Cook the pasta according to the packet’s instruction, and then drain it. Return the drained pasta to the cooking pot and stir through the sauce.
5. Just before serving, stir in the mozzarella and basil. Dish up quickly, by the time you start to eat, the mozzarella will have started to melt. Serve with Parmesan cheese.