Chez Panisse Vegetables

What is it about Alice Waters’ cookbooks? I get the feeling that once she devises the recipes, she farms out the writing process and loses interest. The following recipe is not the first of hers I’ve encountered that seem to be missing steps, complete instructions or jumbled. I’ve rearranged and modified the steps of one recipe, but I’d love to start at the beginning of her books and re-do them all.

Here’s how it is in the book:

Serves 4-6.

2 large globe eggplants
1 lb penne pasta
Olive oil
1 onion
2 cloves garlic
1 handful basil leaves
1 handful parsley leaves
1 lb penne pasta
Sherry vinegar
2 c tomato sauce
Red pepper flakes
1/2 lb ricotta salata

Preheat the oven to 400.
Cut the eggplants in cubes about 3/4-inch square, toss them lightly in olive oil, and spread them out in a single layer on a sheet pan. Roast in the oven for 25 minutes or so, until the eggplant is brown and tender.
Put a large pot of water on to boil for the pasta. Peel and thinly slice the onion. Peel and finely chop the garlic and the herbs, separately. Put the pasta on to cook, al dente.
Heat a large saute pan and saute the onions in olive oil until just caramelized. Add the garlic, cook for a moment more, and then deglaze with a splash of sherry vinegar. Add the eggplant, tomato sauce, a pinch of red pepper flakes, and the chopped basil. Heat the sauce to simmering, drain the pasta, add it to the pan, and toss gently. Serve with a generous garnish of the chopped parsley and ricotta crumbled over the top.

Here’s how I did it:

Preheat oven to 400.

Cut the eggplant in cubes about 3/4-inch square, toss them lightly in olive oil, and spread them out in a single layer on aluminum foil sprayed with olive oil to keep the cubes from sticking as they bake. Roast in the oven for 25 mins or so, until the eggplant is brown and tender.

Meanwhile, slice the onion very thinly. Pour olive oil in a large skillet to coat the bottom. Sprinkle the sliced onion evenly around skillet. Turn the flame to medium low. Do not stir the onions at all until you see them begin to stick to the skillet and turn brown. The longer you wait to touch the onions, the more caramelized they will be. It should take the entire half hour that the eggplant is roasting.

Halfway through the eggplant roasting and onion caramelizing process, fill pot with water for pasta, salt it, and set to boil. Add pasta to water and cook.

While water is boiling, eggplant is roasting, and onions are caremelizing, chop garlic, parsley, and basil. Crumble ricotta salata.

When the eggplant is sufficiently roasted, turn off oven. Add garlic to brown, caramelized onions. Stir and let saute for 2 mins. Pour in a big slug of sherry vinegar, turn up the heat, and reduce (deglaze) for a minute.

Then remove eggplant from oven and scrape the cubes into onion and garlic. Add the tomato sauce, a pinch of red flakes, and the chopped basil and parsley. Heat the sauce to simmering, drain the pasta, add it to the pan, and toss gently.

Serve with ricotta salata over the top.

Last Thoughts:

I’ll make this again. Next time, I’ll try mint and basil or just mint alone. After one extraordinary plate of pasta with a tomato-eggplant-mint sauce in Palermo a few years ago, I’ve been entranced by the combination. I’d also consider using fresh or canned tomatoes instead of sauce.

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