Once upon a time in a little kitchen in New Jersey, a girl opened up a box to find the most beautiful, tiny, purple and white striped eggplants.
Well, that girl was me. But you probably already guessed that part.
The box? It was my weekly CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) box from Jah’s Creation Organic Farm. Jah’s offers a Winter CSA which runs from mid-September through mid-December. It’s perfect for us since we get veggies from our garden and the farmers market in the spring and summer. It’s always so exciting to see what comes in the box each week, as farm owner Matt Bruckler plants all kinds of unique stuff.
And since the weather has been so warm this fall, our CSA boxes have been full of late summer goodies such as zucchini, wax beans, peppers, and of course those gorgeous little fairy tale eggplants.
This past week, we were lucky enough to get yet another box of produce delivered to our house. Only this box was from our neighbor, and it was full of the ripe red plum tomatoes that had been overflowing from their garden. Robert Frost said something about good fences making good neighbors. But I think good tomatoes make even better neighbors.
So with all of these beautiful veggies, I opted to make a variation of a dish served at Sage, a restaurant I used to work at during my summers home from college: A pasta with roasted eggplant, tomatoes, fresh mozzarella and basil.
Speaking of Sage, it just so happens that Chef Lisa is competing TONIGHT on Food Network’s “Chopped.” Lisa is easily one of the most talented chefs I’ve worked for, and she taught me a lot of what I know. I can’t wait to cheer her on tonight. If you are around, you totally should too. And if you live in South Jersey, you need to stop by her Ventnor restaurant to try this pasta. It’s a killer dish.
If you don’t live nearby, that’s too bad. Luckily, I’ve developed a similar recipe that you can try at home.
Tune in to the Food Network tonight at 10 PM to catch Chef Lisa in action. And if you happen to be reading this blog after tonight, fear not. The episode will be rerunning at 9 p.m. on Nov. 7, midnight Nov. 8 and noon Nov. 9.
Pasta with Fairytale Eggplant, Tomatoes, Fresh Mozzarella and Basil
I normally insist on peeling eggplant, as I find the skin can be both texturally unpleasant and bitter. But with these little guys, peeling would just be a pain in the ass. So I roasted them without peeling and it turns out their skins are much more delicate and mellow. So if you’re using a standard eggplant, my advice would be to peel it. But hey, you do whatever makes you happy.
8-10 fairytale eggplants or 1 medium standard eggplant, cut into a large dice
½ cup extra virgin olive oil, divided, plus more for drizzling
1½ tsp salt, divided, plus more for seasoning the pasta water
Freshly ground pepper
8 medium plum tomatoes, seeded and cut into chunks
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
½ lb your favorite short pasta shape (I used one called Gigli, like that bad Ben Affleck/ J-Lo movie)
1 8oz ball of fresh mozzarella, diced
½ cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano
3 sprigs of basil, torn or cut into ribbons
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees and set a medium pot of water on the stove to boil. Toss the eggplant with half the olive oil, ½ tsp salt and pepper to taste. Spread evenly out on a sheet pan and roast until golden brown, about 20 minutes, tossing once half way through.
While the eggplant is cooking, place the tomatoes in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until pureed, but still chunky.
Pour remaining ¼ cup olive oil in a pan and sauté the garlic over medium heat until it just barely starts to toast, about 2 minutes. Add in the tomatoes, salt and pepper, and cook over medium high until reduced slightly, about 10 minutes.
While the tomatoes are simmering, liberally salt the boiling water and drop in the pasta. Cook according to the directions on the package, until al dente. Drain the pasta, then add it to the pan with the tomatoes along with the roasted eggplant. Toss together and cook in the pan for another minute or two so the pasta can absorb the sauce. Remove from heat and toss with the fresh mozzarella, half the Parmigiano, and basil. Drizzle with a little more olive oil if desired, sprinkle with the rest of the Parmigiano and serve.