Sunday, August 28, 2016

Pasta with Baked Eggplant and Summer Vegetables

Sorry for the long hiatus. It's been a busy summer with lots of traveling, and when we have been home - and, as ever, loyal attendees of local farmers' markets - our meals have tended more towards salads and simply prepared vegetables than ambitious cooking projects. But with summer's all-too-short lease nearly run out and a new semester bearing down upon us, it's time to get back in the kitchen and rattle those pots and pans.

The prototype for today's dish came from my partner's daughters, who were inspired by Nigel Slater's baked aubergine pasta in the  Guardian. They came up with the idea of adding the beans, lemon juice (genius), and pine nuts, and over the course of a couple years I've made additional changes to arrive at the recipe below, which - if I say so myself - is completely and utterly delicious: perfect for those evenings when temperatures are just beginning to cool and the refrigerator is stuffed with late summer produce.

Pasta with Baked Eggplant and Summer Vegetables 
~ 1 lb. penne pasta
~ ⅓ cup good, extra-virgin olive oil
~ 1 large eggplant, cut into 1" cubes
~ 1 large yellow or zucchini squash, cut into ½"quarter moons
~ 1 large red onion, sliced into strips
~ 1 large red bell pepper; cut into 2" strips
~ 1 heaping cup grape tomatoes, halved
~ ¼ cup minced garlic
~ 1 tsp. each: salt, smoked paprika
~ 2 tsp. oregano
~ 1 tbsp. dried basil
~ A few generous grinds of fresh black pepper
~ 1 15 oz. can white beans (about 2 cups)
~ Juice of 1 large lemon
~ A good handful each of torn, fresh basil and toasted pine nuts

~ Cook the pasta until al dente; drain and set aside.
~ Preheat the oven to 425 degrees fahrenheit.
~ Pour the oil into a large casserole and place in the oven for a few minutes to heat up.
~ In a large bowl, toss the eggplant cubes with a little salt and pepper; add them to the casserole and bake for 10 minutes.
~ Reduce the heat to 400 degrees, and add the red onion, bell pepper, tomatoes, garlic, and dry seasonings. Mix to combine and return to the oven for 20-25 minutes, stirring occasionally.
~ Add the cooked pasta and the canned beans (including their liquid). Stir well and bake for another 10-15 minutes.
~ Remove from the oven, stir in the lemon juice, taste for seasoning, and scatter the fresh basil and toasted nuts over the top before serving. This dish is equally good eaten hot, at room temperature, or even cold straight from the refrigerator.