We The Italians | Italian cuisine: Baked Pasta with Eggplant and Caciocavallo

Italian cuisine: Baked Pasta with Eggplant and Caciocavallo

Italian cuisine: Baked Pasta with Eggplant and Caciocavallo

  • WTI Magazine #168 Oct 21, 2023
  • 1630

October is National Italian American Heritage Month and National Pasta Month. One of the most iconic dishes of the Italian-American table is baked pasta. As the weather turns cooler, this Southern Italian recipe is the crowning glory of any Sunday Supper table.

The recipe is from my Mediterranean Lifestyle for Dummies book, and is a perfect example of how artisan pasta, made with fresh, high quality ingredients can be enjoyed with both pleasure and health in mind.

Prep time: 20 min Cook time: 1 hour Yield: 8 servings

Ingredients

2 medium eggplants

Unrefined sea salt

¼ cup Amy Riolo Selections extra-virgin olive oil or other good quality olive oil, divided

1 garlic clove, sliced

1 (14.5 ounce) can crushed plum tomatoes or equivalent in homemade tomato sauce

Handful of fresh basil leaves, chopped

Freshly ground black pepper

3 hardboiled eggs, peeled and diced

¼ pound caciocavallo cheese, or other semi-aged cows milk cheese, cut in to thin slices

1 cup pecorino Crotonese (or other good quality pecorino) cheese

1 pound Amy Riolo Selections Maccheroni Pugliesi, rigatoni , or penne shaped pasta

Directions

1 Cut the stem off the eggplants and cut them in to large cubes. Place them in a colander and cover with ¼ salt and let stand to draw moisture out of eggplant cubes.

2 If you don’t have fresh tomato sauce on hand, start by heating 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat.

3 Add the garlic and stir with a wooden spoon. The minute that it releases its’ aroma (prior to turning color) add the plum tomatoes and stir with a wooden spoon.

4 Add the basil and salt and pepper to taste. Bring the sauce to boil over high heat. Cover, and reduce heat to low. Simmer for 10 minutes. Carefully remove lid, stir, being sure to incorporate the bits from the sides of the pan, taste, and adjust seasoning if necessary.

  1. Next bring a large pot of water to boil over high heat and add a teaspoon of salt. Add the pasta, stir, lower the heat to medium low and cook until very al dente.
  2. While the pasta is cooking, pour the remainder of the olive oil in a large, wide skillet and place on the stove.
  3. Rinse off the reserved eggplant to get rid of the salt and juice residue and dry them well.
  4. Heat the olive oil over medium high heat and carefully add in the eggplant, working in batches if necessary, so that there is only one even layer over the bottom. Turn the eggplant and cook until golden and tender, about 5 minutes.
  5. In the meantime, drain the pasta when it is ready and run it under cold water for a minute to stop further cooking.
  6. Preheat the oven to 375 F degrees. Lightly oil a large (lasagna size) baking dish – ceramic or glass work best.
  7. Take a ladle of tomato sauce and stir it in to the pasta. Next pour the pasta into the baking dish. Cover the pasta with the caciocavallo cheese and sprinkle egg pieces over the top.
  8. Cover with the eggplant slices and remaining sauce. Top by evenly distributing the pecorino cheese and drizzle a few tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil over the top.
  9. Bake for 15 minutes or until golden and crispy on top. Remove and allow to cool slightly before serving. This dish is great to make in advance and is often enjoyed at buffets.

Tip: This type of dish is “a meal in itself” and makes an easy and impressive lunch or dinner with a simple green salad.

Note: Calabrians loved baked pasta dishes – this one combines beloved eggplant with the region’s prized Caciocavallo Silano cheese. Even hard-boiled eggs (another regional touch) get added in to the mix.

Vary It! You can use different types of pasta and cheese to come up with your own favorite combination of this classic dish. You can also add in leftover bits of vegetables and meat on occasion. I often swap out the tomato sauce for Amy Riolo Selections Sundried Red Pesto.