Roasted Eggplant Rigatoni

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Serves 4

2 medium eggplants, cut into ¾″ cubes (I prefer to keep the skin on, but peel them if you prefer)
7 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, separated
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 medium onion, preferably sweet, medium dice (about ½ inch pieces)
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper
5 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons capers, rinsed well and patted dry 
1 28-oz. can whole peeled San Marzano tomatoes with their liquid, poured into a bowl and crushed into small pieces by hand
20 fresh basil leaves, coarsely shredded
1 pound dried rigatoni
¾ cup grated Ricotta Salata, Parmesan or Greek Mizithra, plus more for the table

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Thank you to Philip Nicholas for sharing his Roasted Eggplant Rigatoni. While Phil spent most of his career in advertising, he has been passionate about food since he was a child. Recently he turned that passion into a more professional endeavor after attending Le Cordon Bleu in Seattle.  Go to his Facebook page to see more of his fabulous recipes! Trust me, you'll love them!

1. Preheat oven to 500º F. 
2. Place the eggplant cubes into a medium bowl and drizzle with 4 tablespoons of olive oil.  Add 1 teaspoon of kosher salt and 1 teaspoon black pepper and toss to combine. Transfer eggplant to 2 baking sheets and bake, turning twice with a spatula, until soft and caramelized, about 20 minutes. Set aside. 
3. Heat the remaining 3 tablespoons olive oil in a large pot or pan over medium heat. Add the diced onions and cook, stirring, until soft and translucent, but not browned, about 6-8 minutes. 
Add the crushed red pepper and garlic and cook, stirring, until garlic softens and becomes fragrant, about 1 minute. 
4. Add the crushed tomatoes, half the basil, 1 teaspoon salt and bring to a boil, then lower heat to a slow simmer. Meanwhile, add 2 tablespoons of kosher salt to a large pot of water and bring to a boil.
5. Add the rigatoni and cook, stirring occasionally, until al dente, about one minute less than the package directions. Drain pasta, reserving 1½ cups cooking liquid, and transfer pasta to the simmering tomato sauce along with the capers. 
6. Add 1 cup pasta cooking liquid and stir for 1 minute, incorporating cooking liquid with the sauce.
Turn off heat and allow pasta to rest for 5-8 minutes absorbing sauce, stirring occasionally. Gently stir in the reserved eggplant and toss to combine. 
7. Add the remaining half cup pasta cooking liquid if pasta needs more sauce. Stir in remaining basil and check for seasoning, adding more salt if necessary. 

8. To serve, transfer pasta to a platter and top with grated cheese, with an additional bowl of grated cheese to pass around. This pasta is actually better served warm or at room temperature rather than piping hot.

suggestions

  1. Lighten up:  Use 1/2 pound pasta and 1 small spaghetti squash, roasted, deseeded and strands pulled out (see right).

  2. Make it allium free: Substitute 1 bulb fennel for onion and eliminate garlic.

  3. Keep it vegan: Use dairy free cheese.

  4. Add other veggies:  In addition to or in place of eggplant, use roasted zucchini, cherry tomatoes, cauliflower, bell peppers.

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Eat, Read and Dream is my forthcoming cookbook with Geri Clouston, inspired by my Foodie Lit columns. Available on Aug. 22 on Amazon, Book Baby, and Book Depository. So excited to share with you! Preorder now!

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