Pasta with Striped Pink Eggplant, Cherry Tomatoes, Pine Nuts, Cilantro Pesto and Purslane
Eggplants come in a variety of shapes and colours. The dark purple or black is the most widely available eggplant but there are pink, white and even striped varieties. Have you used the striped pink eggplants before? I believe it is called Listada di Gandia. There is some controversy about its origin. Some say it came from Spain, others say from France. Regardless, it is mostly considered now an Italian variety. I guess the Italianos claimed it and it became naturalized in their beautiful country. Can you blame the eggplant? Who wouldn’t? Ciao Bella:).
I like cooking with this pink striped variety when it’s available at the markets. I make it into a dip with garlic and olive oil, grill it for a pizza topping with goat cheese and thyme or make an eggplant salad with tomatoes and chives. I also like to use it with pasta and this is the subject of this post. I have posted another recipe of pasta with eggplant here but this one as a little different. The nice thing about the pink eggplant is that you can use it with the skin without peeling it. The skin is soft and perfectly edible when cooked.
To salt or no to salt, that is the question. Those in the know say you have to salt the cut eggplant to draw out the water it contains and remove some of the bitterness. They also say that the eggplant soaks less oil if you salt it first. Well, suit yourself. Sometime I salt it, sometime I don’t. Who has time to always do that and I only buy it when it’s very fresh from the market so I can’t say that I noticed a big difference with the salting thing. If you soak it, cut into the required shape, sprinkle liberally with salt and leave to drain on paper towels. You will soon see beads of water gathering on the cut surface of the eggplant. Leave it with the salt for about 30 minutes and then my suggestion is to rinse it, not just pat it dry. I have tasted pretty salty eggplant dishes that resulted from not rinsing off the salt well enough. So there.
One thing is true though, eggplant is like a sponge, soaking oil like there is no tomorrow. Once you add the eggplant to the oil in the pan it soaks it up pretty quickly and the pan seems dry. It is tempting to just keep adding oil, and I sometime do, but you can also resist the temptation and instead take a little water from the pasta that is cooking alongside and add the water to the eggplant instead of more and more oil. However, let the eggplant brown a bit before you begin adding water, and only add enough water to keep the pan from drying too much. The water should sizzle and evaporate right away, not sit in the pan and steam the eggplant.
For this recipe I added a handful of mixed herbs from my garden and used some of the parsley pesto that I have been making lately and always have in a jar in the fridge. I mentioned before that I have a bumper crop of parsley this summer and I am looking for ways to use it and preserve its wonderful flavour. The parsley pesto was a winner and I tend to always have it in the fridge ready to be added to this or that, even to a salad dressing. I also happened to have purslane on hand. Purslane is a foraged green meaning it is growing wild out there and someone went out foraging for it. More on that in the upcoming salad recipe. So the purslane went on top of the pasta (uncooked) and added a nice crunch and a lemony bite, to go with the lemon zest in the pasta dish. If you don’t have purslane, don’t despair, use baby arugula, micro greens or don’t use any greens at all. See how easy cooking is?
As for the type of pasta, this time I made it with Riccia, 1/2 inch wide ribbons with rippled edges (see image). It’s a rather sturdy pasta and stood up well to the eggplant in the dish. I have made it with linguini and spaghetti with equally good results. Cook the pasta al dente according to package directions but taste to make sure it is done to your liking. I used 1/2 lb pasta for smaller serving but you can double everything and make it for a crowd. You can cook the eggplant first and when it’s done, cook the pasta. Since I have made this before, I start with the eggplant and then put on the pasta water to boil. This way the eggplant and pasta are ready at about the same time. It’s a rather quick dish to make. If you have leftovers keep them in the fridge. They can be reheated in the microwave and taste good the next day.
Have fun with it.
1/2 lb pasta, Riccia, linguini or spaghetti
1/4 cup olive oil, more as needed
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 pink striped eggplant, fresh from the market, tight and shiny skin
a handful of cherry tomatoes, halved
1/3 cup chopped herbs (parsley, thyme, sage)
Grated zest of a small lemon
Salt and pepper
1/4 cup parsley pesto (recipe below)
1/3 cup pine nuts toasted with1 teaspoon olive oil ( heat up oil, add pine nuts and cook until they begin to turn golden. Be careful not to burn them.
Cherry tomatoes, halved
Purslane leaves or arugula for garnish
Cheese: parmesan, pecorino or feta
Cooking the eggplant:
Cut the eggplant into 1/2 inch cubes more or less (they will shrink as they cook).
Heat the oil in a large skillet. Add the onion and cook over medium heat until softened.
Add garlic and cook briefly until fragrant. Don’t let the garlic brown (it becomes bitter if it burns).
Add the eggplant and toss to coat with the oil. The eggplant will absorb the oil fairly quickly. Continue cooking and stirring, adding a little oil as necessary or add some water or pasta water if you already started cooking the pasta.
Add the handful of cherry tomatoes.
Add the chopped herbs and grated zest of the lemon and mix gently.
Taste and add salt and pepper.
Turn heat to medium-low and let the mixture cook until it is cooked through and ready. Keep warm.
Cooking the pasta:
Fill a large pot with water and bring to a boil. When the water boils add a tablespoon of coarse sea salt.
Add the pasta and cook according to package directions until al dente or cooked to your liking.
When the pasta is done drain, reserving some of the water to use in the sauce if necessary.
Add the pasta to the skillet with the eggplant and toss with a large fork or kitchen tongs.
Spoon some of the parsley pesto over and mix to distribute.
Add the halved cherry tomatoes.
Add the pine nuts.
Add the cheese and mix it in a little.
Pile into a pasta serving bowl or individual pasta bowls, garnish with purslane or arugula and serve warm.
2/3 cups olive oil
1 large bunch flat leaf parsley
1 garlic clove
1 tablespoon capers, drained
Juice from 1/2 a lemon
1 teaspoon coarse salt
Place all ingredients in a small food processor and process until creamy and blended.
Use immediately or place in a glass container and refrigerate until needed. Bring back to room temperature before using.