Sicilian Tomato and Eggplant Rigatoni

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I love going to the farmers market, but I can’t count the number of times I’ve walked past all the beautiful fruit and vegetables and then stopped and thought, “but what am I actually going to cook?” Instead of standing in front of a crate of eggplants and Googling easy eggplant recipes – or just buying a muffin and a few peaches and calling it a day- I wanted to come up with a great summer dish that would make use of those abundant peak-of-summer vegetables.

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David inspects grilled eggplant for doneness.

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This recipe combines eggplant and sweet cherry tomatoes in a pasta that’s light, simple, and really flavorful. Instead of the classic summer go-tos, basil, mozzarella and balsamic, I used Sicilian flavors and ingredients- hot red pepper flakes, garlic, anchovy and golden raisins- and came up with a sauce that’s spicy, savory and just a little bit sweet. It’s almost like rigatoni with a summery caponata on top.

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I like to use a mix of red cherry tomatoes, for their color, and super sweet Sun-Gold tomatoes, for their super sweetness..

This pasta is great for potlucks and summer cookouts because it’s delicious both warm and at room temperature. If you’re planning ahead, you could even make the sauce and grill the eggplant in advance, and then cook the pasta and toss everything together at the last minute. And if you omit the anchovy paste, the pasta will not only be vegetarian, but vegan, too. (woooo!) That said, if you aren’t vegetarian, I highly recommend including the anchovy. It’s subtle, but adds great depth of flavor to the sauce.

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Sicilian Tomato and Eggplant Rigatoni

Ingredients

  • 2 small eggplants (1 1/2 lbs total), sliced into 1/2 inch rounds
  • 1/2 cup golden raisins
  • 1/3 cup sherry vinegar
  • 4 small garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
  • 1/2 tsp anchovy paste
  • 1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
  • 4 cups cherry tomatoes, divided (2 pints)
  • 1 lb rigatoni
  • 1/3 cup toasted pine nuts
  • 1/3 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Directions

  1. Prepare a charcoal grill with a single layer of hot coals, set a gas grill to medium-high heat, or heat a stovetop grill pan over medium-heat high. Brush the eggplant slices generously with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and grill for 3-5 minutes on each side, until charred and cooked through. Set aside to cool. Once the eggplant has cooled, cut each slice into bite sized pieces.
  2. Meanwhile, make the sauce: In a small sauté pan, combine the raisins and vinegar and cook over low heat until the vinegar has completely evaporated, about 10 minutes. Set aside.
  3. In a large sauté pan, heat 1/3 cup olive oil, along with the garlic, anchovy paste, red pepper flakes, 1 tsp salt, and 3 cups of the tomatoes. Bring to a simmer and cook for 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the tomatoes have burst and are starting to break down. Add the remaining cup of tomatoes, along with the raisins, and cook for 5 more minutes, until the final cup of tomatoes are just beginning to burst. Remove from the heat and stir in the eggplant. (The sauce can be made several hours in advance and brought back to a simmer just before you plan to cook the pasta.)
  4. Cook the rigatoni in a large pot of boiling salted water according to the directions on the package. Drain and pour the pasta into a large bowl. Add the sauce and toss well. Add the pine nuts and parsley, reserving about 2 tablespoons of each for the top, and toss gently. Sprinkle the pasta with the reserved pine nuts and parsley, sprinkle with salt, and serve warm or at room temperature.

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