My mom brought me some eggplant from her garden recently and as I scoured the internet for recipes, I came upon this one from Mario Batali here. You generally can't go wrong with baked pasta dishes so I decided to give it a shot. It was a bit time consuming to throw together, especially since I didn't have any tomato sauce on hand and had to make some, but all of the individual steps are really easy. I think it's the first baked pasta dish I've made that didn't include ricotta so it wasn't as creamy as a typical baked ziti might be. I think the recipe really allows the eggplant to shine as the star of the dish. I thought it was delicious! The toasted bread crumbs add wonderful texture so be sure not to skip them!
Baked Penne with Eggplant
2 pounds small to medium eggplant, cut into 1/4 inch-thick slices
salt and freshly ground black pepper
6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 pound penne
2 cups basic tomato sauce
1 cup toasted bread crumbs
1/2 cup freshly grated pecorino romano
10 fresh basil leaves, roughly torn
8-oz piece of ricotta salata for grating (provolone or pecorino are good substitutes)
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the penne and cook until tender but still firm to the bite, stirring occasionally, about 2 minutes less than the instructions on the package. Strain the pasta and rinse under cold water until cool. Put the pasta in a large bowl and toss with 1 cup of the pasta sauce.
Meanwhile, in a 12 inch sauté pan, heat 3 tablespoons of the olive oil over medium-high heat until almost smoking. Working in batches, sauté the eggplant slices, seasoning them with salt and pepper, turning once, until golden brown on both sides. Transfer to a plate lined with paper towels to drain.
Preheat oven to 375 F. Grease a 9 by 13 inch baking dish with 1 tablespoon of the olive oil (I used cooking spray).
Cover the bottom of the baking dish with 1/4 cup of the tomato sauce. Top with half the bread crumbs, then add half the pasta. Arrange half of the eggplant slices, overlapping them slightly, on top of the pasta. Dot about 1/4 cup of tomato sauce over the eggplant, and top with half of the pecorino and half of the basil. Top with the remaining pasta, arrange the remaining eggplant over the pasta, and dot with the remaining tomato sauce. Sprinkle with the remaining pecorino and basil, and then the remaining bread crumbs, and drizzle with the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil.
Bake for 45 minutes then let stand for 10 minutes. Grate ricotta salata (provolone or pecorino work too!) over individual portions before serving.