Today I felt like cooking something vegetarian. I had bought an eggplant and buffalo mozzarella, and had some very nice Paccheri di Gragnano lying around (given to me by Gennaro Esposito, the chef of our favorite restaurant in Italy (Torre del Saracino) during our last visit). The combination of eggplant, mozzarella, basil and tomato is classic. There are many different versions, the most common being melanzane alla parmigiana. This version has a different texture because of the use of pasta. Instead of Paccheri, you can use any kind of large pasta shape that can be stuffed such as shells or snails.
For 2 servings:
150 grams (1/3 pound) paccheri or other large pasta shapes that can be stuffed
125 grams (1/4 pound) mozzarella, preferably buffalo
20 leaves basil
400 grams (1 pound) tomato pulp
1 eggplant (500-600 grams, 1 1/4 pound)
salt and freshly ground black pepper
pinch of sugar
1 clove garlic
Cut off both ends of the eggplant and wash and dry or peel it (since Kees is allergic to eggplant peel, I always peel them but this is not needed). Dice the eggplant.
Put the eggplant cubes in a colander and toss with salt.
But a plate on top of the eggplant and something heavy on top of the plate. Leave for about half an hour to draw the juices from the eggplant. This makes it easier to cook without absorbing a lot of oil.
Meanwhile, peel a clove of garlic and heat some olive oil in a frying pan. Sauté the garlic in the hot oil until it is golden and then discard the garlic. In the photo you can see a trick I use to submerge the garlic in oil without having to use a lot of oil. Pre-heat the oven to 200C/390F.
Add tomato pulp and season with salt, freshly ground black pepper and a pinch of sugar. Let the tomato sauce simmer on low heat until it has the consistency of ketchup (i.e. it does not have to be thick, but if you move it around in the pan then you should not see a lot of water seeping out of it). Stir the tomato sauce now and then.
Dry the eggplant cubes with paper towels (it is not necessary to rinse away the salt as long as you haven’t used too much).
Roast the eggplant in the oven at 200C/390F until golden (around 30 minutes) and turn the eggplant halfway.
Meanwhile, cook the paccheri or other pasta al dente in salted boiling water (stirring now and then to prevent the pasta from sticking to the bottom of the pan).
Dice the mozzarella and cut 12 basil leaves into strips.
Keep half of the tomato sauce seperate. Drain the pasta when it has been cooked al dente, rinse with cold water, and mix with the other half of the tomato sauce in the frying pan. Let the pasta cool off.
When the eggplant is golden, put it into a bowl and let it cool a bit. Lower the oven temperature to 160C/320F.
After the eggplant has cooled to lukewarm, mix it with the basil, mozzarella, some grated parmigiano and a bit of freshly ground black pepper.
Stuff each of the pasta shapes with the eggplant-mozzarella mixture and arrange them in an oven-proof dish. (I put them directly onto the plates, since I have plates that can be used in the oven.)
Cover the top of the pasta with the remaining tomato sauce, sprinkle with freshly grated parmigiano and put a bit of butter on top. Bake in the oven for 30 minutes at 160C/320F.
Serve with the remaining basil on top.
We had a French pinot noir rosé with this from the Sancerre region that went quite well. Even better would be an Italian sangiovese rosé or a light sangiovese-based red.