I don't know about you but this time of year I crave something homey, comforting and without rich sauces. After all the holidays are all about excess and too much of a good thing is...well, it's just too much! Last night's dinner had all the hallmarks of ordinary with a hint of extraordinary if you know what I mean.
Eggplant chunks browned in a garlicky olive oil bath then joined by a smidge of Italian sausage, onions, red wine, beef stock and marinara sauce along with extra oregano, basil and pepper flakes made up the sauce component. Cooked ziti, mozzarella cheese and romano in a crumb lined casserole dish made for baked pasta with a pleasant crispy crunch. Eggplant is such a sponge and it soaked up all the garlicky, tomatoey, winey yummyness just perfectly - so much so that the big guy didn't even notice there was only 3 ounces of meat in the whole dish. That's a kicker isn't it?
Thanks Nick Stellino for the inspiration! I'll be using your method of sandwiching the pasta between layers of bread crumbs next time I whip up a batch of Mac & Cheese too. Ummm - YUM!
As for today, well like most food lovers of the world, I'll be spending the day in the kitchen getting our contributions ready for the pot luck dinner we're attending tomorrow and helping the big guy prep tonight's special Christmas Eve feast. As an aside, it seems there's a surplus of grumpy stressed out people around this time of year which could mean they've lost sight of the true spirit of the season. Please try not to let the grinches steal your Christmas! I'm all about greeting this day with love and joy...course it's a lot easier said than done since I've absolutely no intention of leaving the house. LOL
Baked Pasta with Eggplant Sauce (inspired by Nick Stellino)
6 tablespoons olive oil, divided
3 garlic cloves coarsely chopped
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 medium Eggplant, cut into half inch cubes
3 ounces Italian sausage, crumbled
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 teaspoon basil
1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
1/2 cup red wine
1 cup beef stock
18 ounce jar Marinara sauce (I used Trader Joe’s)
Salt & pepper to taste
1/2 cup dried Italian bread crumbs
8 ounces ziti, cooked to just under al dente
1 cup shredded mozzarella
2 ounces Romano cheese, freshly grated
Heat 3 tablespoons olive oil in a large sauté pan. Add garlic and red pepper flakes and cook until garlic begins to turn golden – about 1 minute. Add eggplant in batches and cook until eggplant is nicely browned, adding more olive oil as required. Remove eggplant from pan when browned and set aside. Add sausage and onion to the same sauté pan and cook until sausage is no longer pink and the onion is softened. Add basil and Italian seasoning and cook for additional minute. Add red wine, stirring bottom of pan to loosen any browned bits. Simmer until wine is reduced by half. Add beef stock and marinara sauce and return browned eggplant to pan. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 15 minutes or until sauce has reduced and thickened slightly.
Meanwhile preheat oven to 425. Spread olive oil on bottom of 9 x 13 casserole dish and sprinkle with half of the bread crumbs. When sauce is ready, add cooked ziti and toss to combine. Place half the pasta mixture into casserole dish and spread evenly. Top with grated mozzarella cheese, then remainder of pasta mixture. Top with grated Romano and the rest of the breadcrumbs. Bake for 20 minutes or until pasta is hot and top is golden and crisp. Serves 4 to 6. Download Baked Pasta with Eggplant Sauce