Baked Pasta in Eggplant: Pasta Incaciata

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It probably wasn’t my brightest idea to make this dish when I had no one available to help me and I’m still recovering from hand surgery. However, the fact that I could proves that it is not too difficult. This recipe is based on one from the Extra Virgin Cookbook by Gabriele Corcos and Debbie Mazar. It is actually pretty flexible and could even be made as a vegetarian entree if you preferred. The presentation has that wow factor that turns relatively mundane ingredients into a dish that you could be proud to serve to company. Just add crusty bread, a green salad and a good bottle of red wine. Please consider the ingredients as a jumping off point for your own creativity. And one real advantage of this dish is that you can prepare the elements separately as befits your schedule and then assemble them when you are ready.

Baked Pasta in Eggplant: Pasta Incaciata

Yield: 8-12 servings

Ingredients

Softened butter for greasing the pan

2-3 eggplants (about 3 pounds total weight)

1/4 cup plus 2 Tablespoons dried seasoned breadcrumbs (I used crumbs that had Italian seasonings, but you could use plain and add your own oregano and basil)

4 Tablespoons freshly grated Pecorino Romano, Asiago or Parmigiano cheese plus more for topping

1 pound fresh, uncooked Italian sausage (sweet or “hot”), removed from its casing

3 large garlic cloves, coarsely chopped

1 small bunch of flat-leaf parsley, coarsely chopped

1/2 cup full-bodied red wine (use whatever you will be drinking for dinner)

About 4 cups of Red Sauce (Either a good quality bought sauce or make the Butter Roasted Tomato Sauce). You do not want the pasta to be drowning in sauce or it will never hold together.

1 pound ziti or penne, cooked al dente according to package instructions

1 pound of fontina or fresh mozzarella cheese, shredded, plus more for the topping

EVOO or Grapeseed Oil

Aquafaba (optional – see note below under frying eggplant)

Kosher salt and cracked black pepper to taste (Go easy on the salt since the cheese is very salty.)

Red pepper flakes (optional)

Direction

  1. Generously grease a 9-inch spring-form pan with the softened butter. In a small bowl combine 1/4 cup of the dried breadcrumbs with 2 Tablespoons of the grated Pecorino Romano. Scatter the mixture evenly over the sides and bottom of the pan, discarding any crumbs that do not adhere to the butter. I only ended up using about half of this mixture but used the rest after I added the eggplant.
  2. In a large skillet, brown the sausage, breaking it up so that you end up with crumbled meat rather than big chunks. There should be enough fat in the meat that it doesn’t require any additional oil, but if you are concerned about it sticking or burning, add a little EVOO. When it begins to brown but is not completely cooked through, add the garlic and parsley and continue cooking until the meat is cooked through and the garlic is fragrant. (If you seem to have a lot of excess fat in the pan, carefully drain most of it off before the next step.) Now add the red wine and cook until the wine has become almost syrupy. Add the red sauce, simmering for about 5 minutes, while mixing everything through. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
  3. Mix the sauce and the shredded cheese through the cooked pasta and then set the mixture aside. This part even be made a day ahead.
  4. Trim the ends off of the eggplants and cut them lengthwise into 1/4-inch planks. Generously salt the eggplant pieces and allow them to sit for 30 minutes. This will remove any bitterness that you might get from the seeds of bigger eggplants. After 30 minutes, rinse the pieces very well under cold water and dry each piece with paper towels.
  5. In a large skillet, heat 3-4 Tablespoons of EVOO or Grapeseed Oil. (NOTE: I found that if I brushed each piece of eggplant with a bit of aquafaba that I had lightly whisked with a fork until frothy, that the eggplant used much less oil.) Place the eggplant slices into the hot oil and cook until browned, turning once so both sides are done. Transfer the cooked slices to a baking sheet lined with paper towels to absorb any excess oil. You can lightly salt and pepper the eggplant slices to taste if you wish.
  6. When you are ready to assemble the eggplant “cake” take one slice of eggplant and place the wider end in the middle of the prepared pan. Carefully bring the piece of eggplant up the side of the pan so that the narrowest part of the eggplant overhangs the top of the pan. Continue doing this with all of the eggplant pieces, slightly overlapping where necessary so you have total coverage. You might need to place a smaller piece over the bottom of the pan to cover any gaps and excess pieces will be used on the top once you have added the filling. Sprinkle any excess bread crumb mixture over the eggplants on the bottom of the pan.
  7. Carefully pour the pasta into the pan, mounding it slightly. If you have any excess, it can be baked separately for another dinner or frozen for a later use.
  8. Gently fold the overhanging strips of eggplant over the top of the pasta. Use and extra eggplant slices to fill in any gaps. You want total coverage. IMG_2970
  9. Cover the top with plastic wrap and place a large plate on top with a weight. I used 2 bricks that I keep for this purpose but you could use canned vegetables. The plate should be sitting on the pasta. Keep this weighted for at least 4 hours but I did it overnight in the fridge. (Okay, to be honest, it was cold enough outside that I actually placed it on my terrace. We are high enough up that I don’t have to worry about any critters.)
  10. When you are ready to bake the “cake” preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Remove the weights and the plastic wrap. Sprinkle the top with any additional grated Pecorino Romano, shredded fontina and 2 Tablespoons of seasoned breadcrumbs. Drizzle lightly with EVOO. Cover the “cake” loosely with foil and place on a baking sheet. You might want to cover the baking sheet with foil since there likely will be some oil seepage. Bake for 30 minutes. Remove the foil and continue baking until the top is browned and bubbling. Remove from the oven and allow it to rest for about 20 minutes Carefully open the latch on the pan and remove the outer ring of the spring-form. Slice wedges as you would a cake and serve. But first allow your guests to ooh and ahhh! IMG_2983

Lobster Fra Diavolo

Somewhat recently a new fishmonger opened shop near our apartment, and when we popped by most recently, they had delicious looking, shelled lobster.  I also happened to have a hankering for fra diavolo and so we decided to get the lobster and the lobster stock they had on hand.

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There are quite a few recipes out there for fra diavolo, and most were either for a generic seafood medley (which we felt wouldn’t highlight flavors from the lobster) or just in photos looked totally different from what we’ve always seen when we (rarely) ordered lobster fra diavolo in restaurants.  It was also surprising how many recipes for specifically “lobster” fra diavolo called for Cognac or some variation of brandy.  When we asked our friendly local fishmonger about this, he mentioned that apparently lobster and brandy are considered a classic taste pairing.  He also noted that he had tried lobster fra diavolo both with and without the brandy and didn’t seem to know the difference.

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The recipe that we finally decided appeared to be the closest to the fra diavolos of memory was this one from Saveur.  Given the cost of the lobster and the stock, we figured we would go all in and made the recipe with some Armagnac, and we would argue that you really could taste it in the sauce.  It turned out fantastic, and if you can moderate the amount of chili pepper flakes for the “spicy” levels.

Ingredients
12 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 lb pre-cooked lobster meat (if you can find it, otherwise the Saveur recipe has some very detailed instructions on how to cook your own lobster)
12 cup flour
2 tsp. crushed red chile flakes
1 tsp. dried oregano
5 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 tbsp. tomato paste
12 cup cognac or brandy
1 cup seafood or fish stock (I used lobster stock)
1 (28-oz.) box whole peeled tomatoes in juice, crushed
1 bay leaf
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 lb. fettuccine pasta, cooked
1 tbsp. chopped parsley
Directions
  1. Heat oil in an 6-qt. Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add chile flakes, oregano, and garlic to pot; cook until lightly toasted, about 3 minutes.
  2. Add tomato paste; cook until lightly caramelized, about 2 minutes.
  3. Add cognac; cook until almost evaporated, about 2 minutes.
  4. Add stock, tomatoes, and bay leaf; boil.
  5. Reduce heat to medium-low; cook, partially covered, until thickened, about 30 minutes.
  6. Add lobster to pot; cook until cooked through, about 10 minutes.
  7. Season with salt and pepper. Add pasta; toss with sauce.
  8. Transfer to a large serving platter; sprinkle with parsley.

Adapted from Saveur Lobster Fra Diavolo.

Fettuccine with Mushrooms and Spinach

img_2304Whenever I do not know what I feel like cooking, I look to pasta for inspiration. I came up with this one on Sunday and I hope that my cousin David will like it. The sauce turned out better than even I expected. It calls for half & half and a little butter – get over it, people! It won’t kill you and it is sooooooooooooooo satisfying.  And yes, you should pair it with a good red wine, a crusty bread so you don’t miss a drop of sauce and a salad if you are feeling ambitious. I like a sharp pecorino grated on top but parmesan would also be great. Pecorino is pretty salty so adjust your salt accordingly if using. And the best part is that you don’t have to be too crazy about measuring. Below is a guide, but feel free to eyeball your ingredients based on personal preference.

Fettuccine with Mushrooms and Spinach

Yield: 4-6 servings

Ingredients

1 pound of Fettuccine (preferably rigate)

2 Tablespoons EVOO

1/2 to 3/4 pound of boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut into large dice and generously sprinkled with Kosher salt and fresh cracked black pepper (The thighs have more flavor than chicken breasts and also don’t dry out as easily.)

1 yellow onion, halved and thinly sliced

5 cloves of garlic, crushed and minced

Lots of fresh thyme (preferably lemon thyme if you can get it)

2 T unsalted butter

1/2 cup red wine (use what you will be drinking or if you have some left-over that is still good for cooking but no longer at its best for drinking)

12 ounces mushrooms, sliced (I like cremini or baby bello)

1 generous cup grape or cherry tomatoes, halved

10 ounces of baby spinach (It really cooks down so this is NOT too much). If you use regular spinach, you will need to remove the hard stems.

1 cup half & half

red pepper flakes to taste

Kosher salt and cracked black pepper to taste

Directions

  1. In a large skillet, heat the EVOO and add the onion and diced chicken. Do not move the chicken around too much because you are trying to get a nice brown on it. Once the chicken has browned, remove it to a bowl and set aside. It should be easy to pick the chicken from the onions.
  2. Add the garlic to the pan and saute until the garlic just begins to brown. Add the red wine and mushrooms and cook on a medium high heat until the wine becomes syrupy and reduces by half.
  3. Add in the butter, thyme (at least 1 Tablespoon), chicken and the grape tomatoes. If you are making the sauce ahead, stir through and turn off the heat and cover until you are ready to cook the pasta.
  4. Cook your pasta according to package, but 3 minutes before it is finished (so if it cooks for 8 minutes then 5 minutes in) throw your spinach into the pot with the pasta and give it a stir. Finish cooking.
  5. Drain the pasta and spinach together and immediately add to the sauce. If your pan isn’t big enough, then add the sauce to the pasta which has been returned to its cooking pot. Immediately add the cream and hot pepper flakes, if using and cook on high heat for about a minute, mixing everything through. Plate and add freshly grated cheese.

Note: If you Really don’t want to use cream, add 1/2 cup of chicken stock and 1/2 cup of pasta water at the end before draining the pasta. It will give a creamy-ish sauce and will also taste delicious. But if you can, definitely use the cream.

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    Bucatini with Butter-Roasted Tomato Sauce

    img_2288OMG! I came across this recipe by accident, printed it out and then did nothing with it for months! What a fool I was. This is one of those recipes that doesn’t look like much, but is actually amazing – and it is made with entirely shelf-stable foods – well except for the butter, but I actually consider that shelf stable since it lasts for a long time and I always have it on hand. Don’t get me wrong – olive oil is wonderful and I used it even when years ago they told us it wasn’t good for you, but sometimes butter really is better. The finished product looks deceptively unassuming, but the taste – oh the taste! This is a keeper if for no other reason than your house will smell incredible. The actual sauce can be made up to 4 days ahead.

    Bucatini with Butter-Roasted Tomato Sauce by Dawn Perry Bon Appetit

    Yield: 4 servings

    Ingredients

    28 ounces of whole canned tomatoes (use San Marzano please)

    8 to 10 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed

    3 anchovy fillets packed in olive oil (I promise that you won’t see them in the finished product)

    1/4 cup (1/2 stick) of unsalted butter cut into 8 pieces

    1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (we found 1/2 teaspoon was a bit spicy for us, but we are not particularly into heat)

    Kosher salt and freshly ground cracked black pepper

    12 ounces bucatini (if you absolutely can’t find bucatini, use spaghetti)

    Grated Parmesan, Pecorino or Asiago for serving

    Directions

    1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. In a large rectangular baking dish, combine the tomatoes (crushing lightly with your hands), garlic, anchovies, butter and red pepper flakes. Season with a little (about 1/2 teaspoon) of salt and several good cracks of black pepper.
    2. Roast, tossing once halfway through, for about an hour to 1 hour. Using a fork or potato masher, break up the tomatoes and garlic. The consistency should be like loose jam. I cooked my sauce in the morning up to this point, covered it and went out for the day.
    3. 30 minutes before you are ready to eat, warm the sauce, covered in a 350 degree F oven. Meanwhile boil the water for the pasta and cook according to directions.
    4. Just before you pour out the pasta to drain, take 1/2 cup of the starchy water and add it to the tomato mixture, stirring it through.
    5. Drain your pasta and add it to the tomato mixture, mixing it through to coat everything with the sauce. It’s a powerful sauce filled with flavor so don’t get hung up on the fact that it doesn’t look impressive. Serve it topped with cheese and fresh chopped parsley or basil if you want some color.

    Note: This sauce would make a wonderful pizza sauce; simply don’t add the pasta water.

    Shrimp and Arugula Avocado Pesto Pasta

    We don’t tend to eat pastas that often, but when we do, we try to go for interesting flavors.  I’m always also looking for easy recipes that I can throw together in the evenings after work, and this concept was recommended to me by a friend at work.

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    I came home to assemble it and it tasted like one of the healthiest pastas I’ve ever had!  Plus it helped that it had one of my favorite ingredients, shrimp!

    Ingredients

    • 1 lb linguine pasta
    • 1 lb peeled and deveined large shrimp
    • 1 tbsp paprika
    • salt and pepper to taste
    • 2 tbsp lemon juice
    • 1/4 cup olive oil for sauce, 2-3 tbsp olive oil for cooking shrimp
    • 1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
    • 3 cups baby arugula
    • 2 avocados

    Directions

    1. In a large pot, bring salted water to a boil and cook linguine according to box instructions (usually about 13 minutes).
    2. In a medium sized bowl, toss the shrimp with the paprika, about 2 tbsp olive oil and 2 tbsp of lemon juice.
    3. In a large skillet, spread some olive oil and when hot, add the shrimp.  Cook for about 15-20 minutes until the shrimp has lost the translucent color.
    4. In the bowl of a food processor, add the arugula, avocado, and olive oil and pulse and puree until creamy.  Feel free to add more olive oil if you want a thinner sauce.
    5. Once the pasta has been cooked, drain and return to pot.  Add in the sauce and stir all together.  Add the parmesan cheese here, as well and stir.
    6. Serve onto shallow pasta bowls and place shrimp on top.  Lightly season with salt and pepper.