One of the pitfalls of being a food writer is that terrific dishes far too often fall by the wayside while I’m pursuing new flavors and ingredients.
That was the case with this pasta, which combines some of my favorite Mediterranean flavors. For years, while I was still working in hard news, this was my go-to pasta dish. I made it for friends and family alike. The proportions and techniques were so familiar, I could whip it up without referring to the recipe.
Then I left the city desk, joined the food team and began trying out new recipes every week when I wasn’t reviewing restaurants. I lost track of this old favorite and my copy of the recipe disappeared.
Not until a longtime friend requested the recipe this summer did I begin to try to recreate it. I remembered the ingredients, but it took a little fiddling to get the proportions right.
This is still a terrific vegetarian dish with cubes of roasted eggplant contributing meaty substance to a sauce bright with sweet tomatoes, tangy goat cheese and fresh basil. Capers and Kalamata olives add salty accents.
An elegant pasta that tastes just as good warmed up the next day, the whole dish comes together fairly quickly once you’ve cut and roasted the eggplant.
Thank you, Marilyn, for prodding me to bring this pasta back into my repertoire. Old dishes, like old friends, deserve to be remembered.
1 pound eggplant, cut into 1/2 -inch pieces
3 tablespoons olive oil
4 garlic cloves, finely sliced
2 1/2 cups chopped tomatoes (or a 28 ounce can, drained)
1 pound penne pasta
6 ounces goat cheese
1/3 cup chopped Kalamata olives
1 tablespoon capers
Freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup chopped fresh basil leaves
Freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Lightly toss cut-up eggplant with 2 tablespoons olive oil, salt and pepper on a rimmed baking sheet. Bake for about 20 minutes until eggplant is very tender and lightly browned. Stir several times while roasting to make sure the eggplant doesn’t burn. Remove from oven and set aside while you prepare the sauce.
Place a large pot of generously salted water over high heat. While the water is coming to a boil, warm 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large, heavy skillet over medium heat and add onion and garlic. Cook, stirring often, until softened. Add tomatoes, bring to a simmer and cover. Cook for 10-15 minutes more.
Add pasta to the boiling water and cook until al dente, about 10-12 minutes. Meanwhile, stir roasted eggplant into the tomato sauce. Drain pasta, reserving about 3/4 cup of the cooking water.
In a large bowl, toss pasta with sauce, crumbled goat cheese, olives and capers. Season with salt and pepper. Add some of the reserved water if necessary to get a saucy consistency. Add basil and Parmesan to taste, toss again and serve.