Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Officially Italian?...Pasta Siciliana says "yes!"

This is not the one I cooked..we gobbled it down too fast. This is the
 restaurant's down the street (i.e my competition)
Have I mentioned I am Italian? Well, only 1/4 Italian if we want to get specific, but it's the largest piece in my cultural-heritage-pie. And since it's the largest, and the only one still actively cultivated in my family, it tends to be a pretty big 25%. (And thanks to my dark hair and Italian-looking mama, people usually don't ask too many questions. My sister on the other hand...) We grew up incorporating Italian traditions into holiday meals and festivities, and Italian cooking was always encouraged. And Italian weddings- don't get me started! If you haven't been to one, you need to get yourself an Italian friend!

Anyway, I just enjoyed a wonderful week-long visit with my former roommate and Resident Expert (RE), who flew all the way to Italy to come hang with me! And if you recall, RE has a pretty restricted diet, so I knew we would be packing meals and eating home-prepared foods daily. It's amazing how much fun you can have in Italy sans pasta and pizza..we were proof! But I admit, after being immersed in Southern Italy for the past week, I was feeling pretty bold and couragous when she left, and that usually leads me straight to the kitchen. Pasta Siciliana was calling my name and I wanted to make it myself. Now, you know I was running on adrenalline because I didn't have a recipe to go by. I just know what's in it: tomatoes, eggplant, olive oil, fresh mozzarrella and beautiful rigatoni pasta. (Here, whenever something is called _____"Siciliana" it means it has an eggplant sauce.)

So armed with my Alice Waters The Art of Simple Food,  a bottle of wine (mostly for cooking, people), and an optimistic attitude, I began. (Chris and I also had the unspoken arrangement that we would be eating eggs and waffles if this plan bombed.) But luckily, it did not. This was, if I may say so, a dish that will give any Italian restaurant a run for their money. It is not, however, something to whip up on a quick night you don't feel like cooking. It took a little time and lots of pans. Here we go:

Pasta Siciliana ala Heather


1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil (divided)
1/4 cup dry red wine
1/8 tsp red pepper flakes
1/2 tsp dried oregano
1 lb eggplant (1 small)
4 oz fresh mozzarella cheese (the kind packed in water); thinly sliced
12 ounces penne or rigatoni pasta (I used whole wheat)

1. Slice eggplant into 1/4 inch rounds. Salt each side and set in a colander for 20 minutes to extract excess moisture. Then, lay slices on paper towel or clean kitchen towel and blot both sides to remove water. cut rounds into thin strips.

2. Next, heat 1 Tbs olive oil in large saucepan over medium heat. Add garlic and red pepper flakes and cook 1-2 minutes until garlic softens.

3. Add red wine, tomato sauce, and oregeno to the pan. Season with salt and pepper. Bring to a boil. Then, quickly reduce heat to low and simmer, partially covered, for 20-30 minutes. Sauce will thicken and reduce.

4. Meanwhile, in another large skillet, heat 1/4 cup olive oil over medium heat. Once hot, add 1/2 of the eggplant strips. (NOTE: eggplant will almost immediately absorb all the oil in the pan. Don't be alarmed. As they fry, they will release alot of the oil back into the pan. Once about 1/2 the oil is back in the pan, the eggplant should be a nice golden brown and very soft.) Use a slotted spoon to transfer eggplant to a papertowel lined plate.

5. Add remaining oil to the pan and fry the second batch of eggplant. (You may not need to use all the reserved oil..use enough to cover the bottom of the pan about 1/8-1/4 inch.) When finished add eggplant to tomato sauce along with a small amount of the eggplant oil. Gently stir in 1/2 of the mozzarella slices. Cover pot to keep warm while pasta cooks.

6. Cook pasta al dente according to package directions. Once finished, put in a bowl and serve with Siciliana sauce on top. Top with extra cheese slices, if desired.

Garnishing with fresh basil is also recommended..but this kitchen was fresh out :)

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