Top | Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking

Eggplant and Ricotta Sauce, Sicilian-Style

(recipe, Marcella Hazan)


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Introduction

I love this sauce with ruote di carro, "cartwheels," and it is also good with fusilli or rigatoni. Nor can you go wrong with plain old spaghetti.

Ingredients

  1. 1 to 1½ lb. eggplant
  2. Salt
  3. Vegetable oil
  4. ⅓ cup extra-virgin olive oil
  5. ½ cup onion, sliced very thin
  6. 1½ tsp. chopped garlic
  7. 2 cups fresh, ripe Italian plum tomatoes, skinned with a peeler, split lengthwise to pick out the seeds, and cut into narrow strips (see Note)
  8. Black pepper, ground fresh from the mill
  9. 3 Tbsp. freshly grated romano cheese
  10. 3 Tbsp. fresh ricotta (see Note)
  11. 8 to 10 fresh basil leaves
  12. 1 to 1½ lb. pasta
  13. Freshly grated parmigiano-reggiano cheese for the table

Steps

  1. Cut off the eggplant's green spiky cap. Peel the eggplant and cut it into 1½-inch cubes. Put the cubes into a pasta colander set over a basin or large bowl, and sprinkle them liberally with salt. Let the eggplant steep for about 1 hour so that the salt can draw off most of its bitter juices.
  2. Scoop up a few of the eggplant cubes and rinse them in cold running water. Wrap them in a dry cloth towel, and twist it to squeeze as much moisture as possible out of them. Spread them out on another clean, dry towel, and proceed thus until you have rinsed all the eggplant cubes.
  3. Put enough vegetable oil in a large frying pan to come ½ inch up the sides of the pan, and turn on the heat to medium high. When the oil is quite hot, slip in as many of the eggplant pieces at one time as will fit loosely in the pan. If you can't fit them all in at one time, fry them in two or more batches. As soon as the eggplant feels tender when prodded with a fork, transfer it with a slotted spoon or spatula to a cooling rack or to a platter lined with paper towels to drain.
  4. Pour off the oil and wipe the pan clean with paper towels. Put in the olive oil and the sliced onion and turn on the heat to medium high. Sauté the onion until it becomes colored a light gold, then add the chopped garlic and cook for only a few seconds, stirring as you cook.
  5. Add the strips of tomato, turn up the heat to high, and cook for 8 to 10 minutes, stirring frequently, until the oil floats free from the tomato.
  6. Add the eggplant and a few grindings of pepper, stir, and turn the heat down to medium. Cook for just a minute or two more, stirring once or twice. Taste and correct for salt.
  7. Toss the cooked and drained pasta with the eggplant sauce, add the grated romano, the ricotta, and the basil leaves. Toss again, mixing all ingredients thoroughly into the hot pasta, and serve at once, with the grated Parmesan on the side.

Note

Culinate editor's notes: This is a superb late-summer and early-autumn dish, showing off ripe eggplant and tomatoes at their best. However, should you not have good fresh tomatoes on hand, using canned whole plum tomatoes is fine. Chile flakes, dried oregano, and a dash of vinegar can also help out the sauce. Crumbled salted ricotta (ricotta salata) is also a traditional cheese to use on this dish in place of the fresh ricotta.