spicy eggplant pasta


As most of you already know, I've had a bit of a rocky relationship with eggplant. I like it, I just don't know what to do with it. Other than the stuff that everyone already does. And while that can turn out great (and I do mean, great), I'm always excited to find new ways to incorporate this evasive, finicky fruit. Yes, fruit.

Inspired by yet another genius recipe from Food52, I decided to dive head first into spicing things up. For this recipe, you'll need:

2 medium eggplants
3 tablespoons of olive oil
1 medium white onion, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, minced
About 2 cups chopped tomatoes
1 1/2 teaspoons dried oregano
2 teaspoons red pepper flakes
About 2 cups of chopped Swiss chard (or any other hearty green)
1 pound linguine or other long pasta

Let me just start by saying: I don't do spicy food. I've tried to crossover to the other side, I've dipped my fork into the Sriacha, but I have to say, it doesn't do it for me. Or rather, it does, and in a way that I can't quite stomach. So two teaspoons of red pepper flakes is like writing my own death sentence. But I figured, hey. Maybe in combination with these other flavors, it just might work.

Begin by letting your eggplant sweat, which is always the crucial first step of any recipe involving these dark-purple beauties. You want to select eggplants that are on the squat, small side and as blemish free as possible. (Um, try to ignore the huge slasher cuts in mine. Apparently our crisper drawers are a battlefield.) The bigger eggplant get, the more possibility of the flavor being bitter and the flesh too seedy. Wash and cut your eggplant in to 1-inch thick slices. Salt generously on both sides and set aside for no less than one hour. (If you want to encourage even more liquid to drain, you can place something weighted over the eggplant to press them further.)

After you've drained your eggplant, preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Place your eggplant on a large baking sheet. Drizzle with olive oil and cracked black pepper. Roast them until they've gone tender, which will take about twenty minutes.

Meanwhile, heat several tablespoons of olive oil in a large skillet or pan over medium heat. And your onions and garlic and sauté until slightly caramelized, about eight minutes. Add your tomatoes, chopped greens, oregano and pepper flakes. Continue to stir and allow your sauce to thicken. On another burning, while your sauce continues to simmer, bring a large pot of well-salted water to a boil.

There's a lot of things going at once here, which makes it a little tough to time it all perfectly, but keeping things on low heat will buy you a little flexibility. Remove your eggplant and chop into smaller bite sized pieces -- carefully, of course, because it just came out of the oven. So it's hot. Add your eggplant to your stovetop sauce, stirring well.

While your pasta is still al dente (or still retaining a slight bite), drain and then quickly transfer to the pan with your sauce. That way your pasta will finish cooking in the sauce and absorb all of that amazing flavor. If you've got some fresh herbs on hand, like basil, it makes for a great serving garnish on this already colorful dish.

I have to say, to me, and probably only to me, this dish had a just enough of a kick. To cute Colin, who is a seasoned spicy foods lover, it was more or less mild. Season as you know best for your taste and what you enjoy--no point in making a dish you can't eat!