This year, I planted eggplant in our container garden for the first time. We usually have several large pots on the patio–one for herbs, one for tomatoes and one that in previous years has been occupied by bell pepper plants. However, after really pathetic pepper yields for the past two years (not even one last year!) I decided it was time to plant something new. Out with the peppers, in with the eggplant.
I wish I could say I came up with this pasta recipe to use up the bountiful harvest that the plant is producing, but that’s not the case–yet! It’s got a couple of eggplants on it that are doing ok, but as of yet they are still little babies. But when they reach adulthood, I’ll be ready.
I’m all about building a dish around one central component, so this spicy eggplant pasta bake is an interesting way to use up one big eggplant that isn’t eggplant Parmesan or ratatouille. It’s not an imitation of those other dishes and their flavors, either. The sauce is tomato based, but spicy and gets a slightly Middle Eastern kick from spices like cumin and coriander. Salty feta cheese, some bitter spinach and sharp garlic round out the flavors.
I’m using a couple of tricks here to speed up the recipe by cooking lots of components simultaneously. You could easily cook the eggplant cubes on the stove, but I choose to roast it in a hot oven instead–this way I can cook all the cubes at once instead of sautéing in batches and using lots of oil. Plus, then you only have two pans on the stove to monitor at once. I’m also relying on a “shortcut” ingredient, harissa paste, to add much of the spiciness to the dish. You can learn more about harissa here.
- 1 large eggplant, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
- kosher salt
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- pinch red pepper flakes
- 1/2 tsp cumin seeds
- 1/2 tsp fennel seeds
- 1/4 tsp coriander seeds
- 2 15-oz cans diced tomatoes
- 2 tablespoons mild harissa
- 1/2 tsp dried oregano
- 1/2 tsp dried basil
- 1/2 tsp dried parsley
- 2 cups baby spinach
- 2 2/3 cups dry whole wheat rotini (or 4 servings any pasta)
- 1/2 cup feta cheese, crumbled
- Place the eggplant cubes in a colander and sprinkle with kosher salt. Set in the sink for at least 30 minutes.
- Meanwhile, start the sauce. In a wide ovenproof sauté pan, heat 1 tbsp of olive oil over medium heat until it shimmers. Add the garlic, red pepper, cumin, fennel and coriander and cook 2-3 minutes until the garlic just begins to brown and the spices are fragrant.
- Pour in the diced tomatoes and stir in 1 tbsp harissa, and the oregano, basil and parsley. Bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook 10-15 minutes until the tomatoes have broken down a bit. Stir in the spinach until wilted. Taste and adjust seasoning; leave over low heat.
- Preheat the oven to 425F. Rinse the eggplant well. Use your hands to squeeze out the moisture (or, roll them up in a clean kitchen towel and squeeze). Place the eggplant on a large baking sheet. Toss with the other 1 tbsp olive oil and 1 tbsp harissa. Roast the eggplant 15-20 minutes until tender and beginning to crisp in places.
- While the eggplant cooks, bring a pot of salted water to a boil. Cook the pasta following the package instructions. Drain and add the pasta to the sauce; stir to combine.
- When the eggplant is done roasting, remove it from the oven and turn on the broiler. Stir the eggplant into the sauce and pasta. Top with the feta cheese.
- Place the sauté pan under the broiler until the cheese begins to brown, about 5 minutes. Remove from the oven and let stand 5-10 minutes before serving.