Pasta with Eggplant Pesto
I had this wonderful pasta dish at a little hole in the wall restaurant near Mt. Etna in Sicily. The restaurant was small, had one big communal table, and about 5 to 6 little tables. The menu was handwritten on a chalk board and they served their pastas family style. I really wish I could remember the name of this place, so if anyone who was with me on the tour, or has ever been to a place like this near Mt.Etna, and knows the name, I would very much appreciate it if you could let me know in the comment section of this recipe.
Back to the pasta - I had never had anything like it before and it was so delicious that I knew I just had to try to recreate it when I returned home to the U.S. The chef called it an eggplant pesto and because I asked, he tried to explain (in Italian, of course) the recipe. But since my Italian is not so good, I only understood about half of what he said. I heard him say that the recipe was simple to make and used basic ingredients, such as eggplant, olive oil, and parmesan cheese - that I could have figured out on my own - and the rest of what I understood him say was not extremely helpful either. The recipe below is my recreation based on my memory and my limited understanding of Italian. I have to say that my version is fairly close in taste and look to the original dish. This pasta is a great vegetarian option and an easy dish to make if you are in a hurry for dinner.
Makes 4 servings
- 1 to 2 eggplants (about 1 to 1.5 pounds)
- 1 bunch fresh basil leaves (about 1/2 cup packed)
- 1/4 cup blanched almonds
- 3/4 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano
- 1 pound penne pasta
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 1/2 cup cup extra virgin olive oil
Step 1: Roast eggplants in the oven. Pierce the eggplants with a sharp knife in a few places. Put it on a foil-lined tray and place directly under a hot broiler for 1 hour, turning a few times. The eggplant should deflate completely and its skin should burn and break.
Step 2: Once the eggplant is ready, remove it from the heat and make a long cut through it. Scoop out the soft flesh while avoiding the skin. Discard the skin. Chop the flesh roughly and set aside.
Step 3: Blanch the basil for a few seconds in a pot of boiling salted water. Then, remove it with a slotted spoon and dip immediately into a bowl of ice water in order to retain its bright green color. Remove the basil from the ice water, dry thoroughly, and place in a bowl with about 1/4 cup olive oil. Puree with an immersion blender until you have a smooth sauce. Set aside.
Step 4: Puree the eggplant in a food processor until you have a thick sauce. Add almonds, 1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese, and salt and pepper to taste.
Step 5: While the food processor is running, slowly add 1/4 cup olive oil to the eggplant mixture and process until smooth.
Step 6: Cook the pasta in a pot of boiling salted water according to the instructions and time indicated on the package. The pasta should be cooked al dente.
Step 7: While the pasta is cooking, transfer the eggplant sauce to a pan, add salt and pepper to taste, a little bit of the basil sauce, 1/4 cup of the grated Parmigiano Reggiano, and a drizzle of olive oil. Warm up the sauce over medium heat, while stirring.
Step 8: Add al dente pasta immediately into the pan with the sauce. Toss it in the pan and serve immediately on plates garnished with a little bit of the remaining cheese and basil sauce.