In Calabria, vegetables are king—especially in summertime. Every meal headlines the fresh vegetables that are in season, while meat or fish play a supporting role. And just as in Calabria, here in California eggplant overflows throughout the summer in our local farmers’ markets. Unfortunately, many people don’t know how to use eggplant, so here’s a simple dish, starring eggplant, that starts our tour of Calabria.
‘Ncasciata means compressed. In this dish, the idea is the pasta forms the bottom layer and is compressed by the layer of eggplant.
The secret to frying eggplant without it drinking up all the olive oil is HEAT! The olive oil should be hot and lightly smoking. The eggplant will still drink up olive oil but release it as it browns. See the further directions below.
This recipe serves 4. Use a small rectangular oven-proof baking dish — about 8″ x 10″.
Ingredients and Ingredients:
- 1 medium Italian eggplant
- Olive oil
- 3/4 lb of rigatoni or paccheri (super-large rigatoni)
- 1 cup tomato sauce with meat (make a simple meat sauce by breaking up 2 links of high-quality Italian hot sausage, sauté in a pan until the pink is gone, add tomato puree and cook over low heat for 30 minutes — season with salt and pepper — continue to break up with a wooden spoon)
- 4 slices of thinly sliced provolone cheese
- Parmesan cheese (Parmigiano-Reggiano if possible)
- Slice the eggplant into rounds about 1/4″ thick. Sprinkle each round with salt and let sit for for 30 minutes. Rinse and pat dry very well using paper towels. Excess water on the eggplant will cause it to splatter when fried.
- Heat oven to 350 degrees.
- Add olive oil to a frying pan to a depth of 1/4″. Heat to hot and just slightly smoking and fry the eggplant in batches until golden brown on both sides — about 5 minutes per side. Remove to paper towels to drain.
- Cook the pasta in boiling salted water to very al dente — about two minutes short of the package directions’ cooking time. Drain well and add to the baking dish. Add half the meat sauce and mix well to combine and let the hot pasta absorb the sauce.
- As an extra step, take a moment to line up the pasta in neat rows so it cuts in clean lines.
- Cover with a layer of provolone cheese. Then top with a layer of eggplant. Don’t worry about overlapping the slices of eggplant to cover thoroughly. Top with the remaining meat sauce.
- Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese and bake for 15 minutes until hot and bubbly.
- Let the dish set for 5 minutes and then cut and serve.