September 17, 2020

The BEST Summer Pasta Dressing with Eggplant, Tomatoes and Sheep’s Cheese

This is such an amazing pasta dressing! 


This pasta dressing explodes with Mediterranean flavors! It reminds me of sunny Puglia in southern Italy and its amazing Mediterranean vegetables. It has juicy, tasty tomatoes; mild aubergines/eggplants, some chili peppers and garlic, lots of fresh basil, wonderful, savoury seasoned ricotta (ricotta salata) and fresh, fruity olive oil from Puglia. Its perfect for meatless Mondays or vegetarian days. I promise you won't miss the meat!

It is equally delicious with handmade fresh egg pasta or dry, hard wheat pasta.

With Egg Pasta Farfalle

With Hard Wheat Rigatoni


I suggest reading through the entire recipe and my notes before cooking this. I recommend seeking out the “sweet” variety of aubergines/eggplants which are either striped (violet and white), all white, or violet with white tinges by the stem area on the outside and completely white on the inside. These varieties do not require salting to remove bitterness because they are not bitter. 

It is not necessary to cook the tomatoes, specially on a hot day. Raw tomatoes that are ripe and tasty are wonderfully refreshing and also give you a nice variation on this dish.

Ricotta salata is a dairy product from the Puglia region of Italy. Although we treat ricotta salata like a cheese, it is technically not a cheese but a dairy product. It is made from the whey left over after making cheese with, usually, sheep’s milk. The whey is cooked a second time, thus giving it its name; ricotta literally means cooked twice or cooked again. It is less fatty and much less caloric than cheese. Ricotta salata literally means salty ricotta and while it tastes somewhat salty, its main characteristic is that it is hard because its been seasoned for 30 days and lost up to 50% of the water regular fresh ricotta has. 

If you cannot source ricotta salata you can substitute it with Pecorino Romano (hard sheep’s cheese from Rome) or good quality Greek Feta cheese (made with either sheep or goat or a blend of the two). While these two cheeses have different consistencies, they both confer the tasty sharpness required in this dish.


Aubergines, tomatoes, garlic, basil and ricotta salata

RECIPE

Serves 4 persons as a first course or 3 as a single course meal. 

Ingredients

1 -2 cloves garlic, peeled

1-2 dried hot Italian peppers (pepperoncino)

12-16 sweet cherry tomatoes (see notes)

600g or 2 medium sized sweet aubergine/eggplants

a large bunch fresh basil

100/3.5 oz grams of Pecorino Romano cheese, Ricotta salata or very good quality Feta cheese

Extra virgin olive oil for cooking

Excellent quality extra virgin olive oil to finish  

350 grams of hard wheat pasta or fresh egg pasta. A short shape with some sort of cavity is ideal such as rigatoni, orecchiette (little ears), bowties or garganelli.

NOTE: Keep in mind that hard wheat pasta takes longer to cook than fresh egg pasta. Fresh Egg pasta takes between 2-3 minutes for flat types and up to 5-7 minutes for fresh stuffed pastas while dry hard wheat pasta can take up to 15 minutes, check package directions for exact time.

Procedure

Prepare all the ingredients as follows and set aside, each in its own bowl or dish: 

Wash, dry and cut aubergines/eggplants into bite sized cubes,

Wash cherry tomatoes and cut into small bites sized pieces, 

Grate cheese, I like to grate in the larger holes of the grater,

Rinse and dry basil. Tear up the basil into small piecesith your hands. 

Ready to cook

Take a non-stick skillet and drizzle with a bit of regular olive oil (extra virgin but not the expensive stuff). 

Crush the garlic with the flat side of a large knife, remove its green germ and immediately place in the skillet with the the olive oil. 

Crush the hot peppers directly into the olive oil. 

NOTE: Wash your hands immediately because anything you touch will sting (eyes, mouth, nose)!

Warm the skillet over med-low heat and as it cooks the garlic will begin to become golden (do not let it brown though - that would be a different flavor profile). Once it is golden you may remove it as its done its job of flavoring the olive oil. 

At this point add the aubergine/ eggplant and raise the heat to med-high, stirring regularly to prevent it from sticking. This step requires frequent turning over the cubes of aubergines to ensure it cooks evenly. 

NOTE: Do not add extra olive oil because the eggplant will absorb the oil and then it becomes a heavy dish. If necessary, lower the heat.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. When water is boiling add some coarse salt (never add oil to the water).  If using packaged pasta, add it now and check package directions for cooking time. 1

After the aubergines are almost cooked (see note below), add the cut tomatoes and cook for another 5 minutes or so. Salt lightly and lower the heat.

NOTE: The Aubergines are done when the exterior is opaque white and/or browned. You could also put a toothpick or knife through it to test it. If it goes through without resistance, it is done. 

Cook your pasta in boiling salted water. Drain when cooked (taste to test doneness). 

Time to assemble the dish

Immediately toss pasta with aubergine/eggplants and tomatoes. Toss well.

Then add the grated cheese and hand-torn basil and toss some more. 

Add a generous drizzle of high quality olive oil and toss thoroughly. 

NOTE: The tossing between prevents the ingredients from clumping together. 

You may add extra cheese to each individual plate. Serve immediately and enjoy!


All recipes and comments are by Maribel Agulló except where expressly attributed to others.

Do not publish or distribute the recipes without previous, written consent.

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