serves: 6 servings
This is a delicious Sicilian pasta dish, and as I discovered in Palermo while researching Lidia's Italy, you will find it on just about every restaurant menu. In Sicily they fry the eggplant cubes before they add them to the pasta, but here I instruct you to bake the eggplant; it is just as good, but with much less fat. I am asked for this recipe over and over again--my viewers seem to love eggplant and ricotta, and this dish is the perfect marriage of the two.
2 large firm eggplants, (each about 3-inches in diameter and 1 1/4 pounds)
2 tablespoons Coarse sea salt, plus more salt for cooking the pasta and sauce
6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 garlic cloves, peeled and sliced
35 ounce can Italian plum tomatoes, (preferably San Marzano) with their liquid
1 pound ziti
1 cup Grana Padano or Parmigiano-Reggiano, freshly grated
1 cup basil leaves, washed, dried, and shredded
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper
½ pound whole milk ricotta
Trim the stems from the eggplant. Remove strips of peel about 1 inch wide from the eggplant, leaving about half the peel intact. Cut the eggplant into 1-inch cubes, and toss in a large bowl with the 2 tablespoons salt. Dump into a colander and let drain for 1 hour. Rinse the eggplant under cool running water, drain thoroughly, and pat dry.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Brush a baking sheet with half the olive oil. Turn the eggplant cubes onto the baking sheet, toss to coat with oil, and spread them out in an even layer. Bake until the eggplant is very tender and browned, about 25 minutes. Turn and stir the eggplant cubes gently once or twice so they cook evenly.
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat for the ziti.
Heat the remaining olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Scatter the garlic over the oil, and cook, shaking the pan, until golden, about 3 minutes. Pour in the crushed tomatoes, add the pepper flakes, and season lightly with salt. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes.
Stir the ziti into the boiling water. Return to a boil, stirring frequently. Cook the pasta, semi-covered, stirring occasionally, until al dente, about 10 minutes.
Drain the pasta, and return it to the empty pot over low heat. Pour in about half of the sauce, tossing lightly to coat the pasta with sauce. Remove the pot from the heat, stir in ½ cup of the grated cheese and the basil. Toss in half of the roasted eggplant cubes
and toss, then add the ricotta by heaping teaspoonfuls,stirring it gently into the pasta; you want the ricotta to warm, but you do not want it to blend with the sauce completely.
Plate the pasta, and spoon the reserved sauce over each serving. Now add equal amounts of the remaining baked eggplant to the top of all the pasta plates. Sprinkle with the remaining grated cheese,and serve.