Rigatoni with sweet tomatoes, eggplant, and mozzarella is a deceptively easy pasta dinner that tastes much more difficult. Cheesy and filled with silky eggplant, tomatoes, and cream, it also bakes into a magnificent casserole. #LCHumpDayPasta
This is a dish I’ve had many times in Italy on the Amalfi coast. It’s one of those dishes that tastes like home—it’s comfort food, and it makes you feel good. The interesting thing about it is that the cow’s-milk mozzarella is torn up and thrown in at the last minute, so that when you dig your spoon in you get melted, stringy bits of it, making it a real joy to eat. You can eat this as soon as it’s made, or you can put it all into a baking pan with a little cheese grated on top and reheat it as a baked pasta dish the next day, if you wish.–Jamie Oliver
What is LC HUMP DAY PASTA?
I’m glad you asked. LC Hump Day Pasta (#LCHumpDayPasta) is a little something we cooked up to help you on the night of the week that you feel least like cooking. Wednesday was traditionally Prince Spaghetti Day (for those of you old enough to remember). We’ve revamped and updated that to Hump Day and included every type of pasta there is.
DO I HAVE TO SALT EGGPLANT BEFORE COOKING?
We know that it’s probably been drilled into you that you need to salt your eggplant before cooking them, in most cases. But Jamie Oliver, the recipe author himself, has a thought about that saying that “some people prefer to season eggplant with salt and let it sit for a while in a colander to draw out the bitterness, but I don’t really do this unless I’m dealing with a seedy, bitter eggplant. This dish is really best made using a firm, silky one”. So, unless you’re not 100% thrilled with your eggplant…you’ll be fine without the extra step.
Rigatoni With Sweet Tomatoes, Eggplant, and Mozzarella
- 1 firm ripe pink, black, or white eggplant
- Extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 garlic cloves peeled and sliced
- 1 onion peeled and finely chopped
- Two (14-ounce) cans good-quality plum tomatoes (or substitute chopped homegrown tomatoes and their juices)
- 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
- Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1 to 2 fresh or dried chiles chopped or crumbled (optional)
- 1 small bunch basil, leaves ripped, sprigs sliced
- 4 tablespoons heavy cream
- 1 pound rigatoni or penne
- 7 ounces cow’s-milk mozzarella
- 1 piece Parmesan cheese for grating
- Trim both ends of the eggplant and slice the eggplant into 1/2-inch-thick slices. Chop the slices into 1/2-inch dice.
- Place a large saucepan over medium heat and drizzle in 4 to 5 tablespoons olive oil. When the oil is hot, add the eggplant and as soon as it hits the pan stir with a spoon so the pieces become delicately coated with the oil on all sides and not soaked on just a single side. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 7 or 8 minutes.
- Add the garlic and onion and cook, still stirring occasionally, until they take on a little color. Add the tomatoes and vinegar, stir them around, and season with salt and pepper. At this point, if you want to give the dish a little heat you could add some chopped fresh or crumbled dried chille, but that’s up to you. Add the basil sprigs and simmer the sauce nice and gently for about 15 minutes. By this time the eggplant will have cooked into a creamy, tomatoe-y pulp, which is just yum yum yum! If desired, fish out the basil sprigs. Stir in the cream.
- Meanwhile, while the sauce is simmering, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook according to the package instructions, or until it’s soft but still holding its shape. Drain the pasta, saving a little of the cooking water. I like to put the pasta back into the pot it was cooked in with a tiny bit of the cooking water and a drizzle olive oil and move it around so it becomes sorta dressed with the water and oil.
- At this point, add the lovely tomato sauce to the pasta and season with salt and pepper to taste. When all my guests are sitting round the table, I take the pan to the table, tear up the mozzarella and the basil leaves, and gently fold these, tossing and stirring things about for 30 seconds. Then I very quickly heap out portions into bowls. By the time your guests start to eat, the mozzarella will have begun to melt, so it will be stringy and gorgeous and really milky-tasting and just lovely with the tomatoes and eggplant. Set out a block of Parmesan cheese and a grater so that everyone can help themselves.
Recipe Testers' Reviews
This rigatoni with sweet tomatoes, eggplant, and mozzarella was lovely and very easy to put together. While it does require some time over a hot stove (perhaps not the most enjoyable spot to be during the summer), the payoff is definitely worth it. The eggplant becomes all soft and mushy, mixed in with the tomatoes, and there’s nothing like gooey mozzarella strewn throughout to bring it together.
Definitely add the optional dried chiles—I used one dried chile de arbol, although I could have easily increased it to two. I also recommend adding a touch of sugar to the tomatoes—I’ve always made my tomato-based pasta sauces with some sugar, though, so that’s to my taste. Finally, while adding cream does impart a nice mouthfeel, I don’t think it’s absolutely necessary.
This dish is very easy to prepare and reminds me of one of my favorite Sicilian dishes--pasta alla Norma. You're simply swapping out the ricotta salata for mozzarella. And why not? Italy is known for its regional variations on dishes and this one is every bit as good as it's Sicilian counterpart. I suggest using mezzi rigatoni for this dish. They're a smaller version of the classic rigatoni and I find them a bit lighter. Also because of their size, the sauce and eggplant have a good chance of finding their way into the interior of the rigatoni which makes each bite a lovely combination of pasta, sauce and veg. Then if you're lucky, you'll also have a nice bite of the melted mozzarella as well.
Speaking of the mozzarella, I might use shredded mozzarella the next time which I think would be easier to incorporate and distribute throughout the dish. The large pieces of sliced mozzarella tended to clump together--not a big problem, but the smaller pieces would probably melt faster and be easier to incorporate. Overall, a delicious dish that is easy to put together, especially with those homegrown Jersey cherry tomatoes and fresh basil in such great abundance in my backyard at this time of the year.
Originally published December 07, 2004