Meatless Monday: Ziti with Roasted Eggplant and Ricotta Cheese

Italian, Main Courses, Meatless, Pasta / Monday, February 11th, 2013

I keep hearing about people who lose their appetites when they’re grieving, but since my grandmother (aka Mommaw!) passed away last week, I’ve eaten enough carbs to run six or seven marathons. Every time that hole in my heart opens, I stick a pancake in it. Or some crackers. Or pasta.

I know you’re not judging me. We do what we have to. But this week, it’s definitely time to switch to broccoli. Or long walks on the treadmill while binge-watching “Scandal.”

This week’s mantra: It’s OK to start feeling better.

Anyway, pasta. I’ve been meaning to share this recipe with you for weeks: Lidia Bastianich’s Ziti with Roasted Eggplant and Ricotta Cheese. Instead of frying the eggplant, the way they do in Sicily, you save some calories by tossing the cubes in olive oil and roasting them in the oven until they’re brown and tender but still firm enough to add a meaty texture to the pasta. Toss the eggplant with the ziti, tomato sauce, basil and creamy ricotta cheese, and you’ve got a big beautiful mess that smells like summer. Just the thing for a gray winter day. 

Ziti with Roasted Eggplant and Ricotta Cheese

Reprinted with permission from “Lidia’s Favorite Recipes” by Lidia Bastianich and Tanya Bastianich Manuali

Makes 6 big servings

  • 2 large firm eggplants, (each about 3-inches in diameter and 1 1/4 pounds)
  • 2 tablespoons Coarse sea salt, plus more salt for cooking the pasta and sauce
  • 6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 garlic cloves, peeled and sliced
  • 35 ounce can Italian plum tomatoes, (preferably San Marzano) with their liquid
  • 1 pound ziti
  • 1 cup Grana Padano or Parmigiano-Reggiano, freshly grated
  • 1 cup basil leaves, washed, dried, and shredded
  • 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper
  • ½ pound whole milk ricotta
  1. Trim the stems from the eggplant. Remove strips of peel about 1 inch wide from the eggplant, leaving about half the peel intact. Cut the eggplant into 1-inch cubes, and toss in a large bowl with the 2 tablespoons salt. Dump into a colander and let drain for 1 hour. Rinse the eggplant under cool running water, drain thoroughly, and pat dry.
  2. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Brush a baking sheet with half the olive oil. Turn the eggplant cubes onto the baking sheet, toss to coat with oil, and spread them out in an even layer. Bake until the eggplant is very tender and browned, about 25 minutes. Turn and stir the eggplant cubes gently once or twice so they cook evenly.
  3. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat for the ziti.
  4. Heat the remaining olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Scatter the garlic over the oil, and cook, shaking the pan, until golden, about 3 minutes. Pour in the crushed tomatoes, add the pepper flakes, and season lightly with salt. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes.
  5. Stir the ziti into the boiling water. Return to a boil, stirring frequently. Cook the pasta, semi-covered, stirring occasionally, until al dente, about 10 minutes.
  6. Drain the pasta, and return it to the empty pot over low heat. Pour in about half of the sauce, tossing lightly to coat the pasta with sauce. Remove the pot from the heat, stir in ½ cup of the grated cheese and the basil. Toss in half of the roasted eggplant cubes and toss, then add the ricotta by heaping teaspoonfuls, stirring it gently into the pasta; you want the ricotta to warm, but you do not want it to blend with the sauce completely.
  7. Plate the pasta, and spoon the reserved sauce over each serving. Now add equal amounts of the remaining baked eggplant to the top of all the pasta plates. Sprinkle with the remaining grated cheese, and serve.

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