This special pasta dish is based on a recipe from our Italian relative Marisa, who like many Italians has strong views on what constitutes good cooking. However, Marisa also happens to be an excellent cook herself. The recipe was relayed to me twice: once at a wedding and the other time at a summer party. No doubt my memories may be somewhat unreliable.
But in fact, the recipe is just one of many ideas for a recipe based on fried, grilled or roasted aubergines, peppers and sometimes courgette. Marisa’s pasta is very much like my own way of making ratatouille with added pasta, but also very much like the famous Sicilian dish Pasta alla Norma which features aubergine and tomato. And so, I’m happy to credit Marisa, but really it is my own interpretation. In fact, there is a recipe in here for everybody. It’s a good idea and endlessly variable.
Quick and simple version
This recipe can be summarised as mediterranean vegetables with tomatoes and pasta. So you could simply fry-up some veg and tomatoes and add pasta of your choice. This can be written down very concisely and simply – but my version roasts the vegetables with the tomatoes and adds more sauce separately and I thought I would add all the detailed nuances that I might go into as part of my natural processes in the kitchen. It’s way more than most would do so – and probably not even necessary – so by all means simplify away – it will still be good!
Part of the knowledge mentioned above required for cooking good food, is getting the right ingredients. Good ingredients already taste wonderful, so you are already making your food taste better by sourcing them. In this case, it is the large paccheri pasta. Rummo use bronze dies so the pasta has a rough surface for holding onto the sauce, but the ridges (rigati) add extra holding power. Apart from large pasta being a delight to eat, they work well with this style of recipe because the vegetables are also kept large, giving a satisfying separation to the dish’s elements.
I’ve got hold of some guanciale; Italian cured pig’s cheek. It’s mostly fat, and that is the point… the fat has good flavour and can be used to fry other ingredients. But do omit if you want a vegetarian version.
Use a good passata, Ciro is fine, Mutta is good – but nothing that has other added ingredients. We just want the good taste of tomato. And of course do use a good stock. Homemade is best, but otherwise in the UK, use Kallo ‘LOW SALT’ stock cubes, or Marigold vegetarian/vegan stock. Don’t use a full strength stock – one Kallo cube or one teaspoon of Marigold in 500ml is fine, it’s only intended to loosen the tomato and add a bit more oomph than water…
I tend to add mild dried Spanish guindilla or Mexianc guanjillo chillies. I cannot find any information on whether the two are identical – but their flavour is similar – a gentle background heat with a tad of fruity smoke.
Prepare the vegetables
Slice the aubergines lenthways into thick slices about 1 cm thick. Salt each slice with a sprinkling of salt then put in a colander with a plate and weights on top and let it strain for about an hour. Rinse and dry.
Snap the very ends off the celery and pull back to de-vein or de-string the stick, repeat on the other end and then snap each stick in half and pull back to remove more veins/string. Trim the celery and cut in half lengthways and then chop into fairly long pieces. Blanch in boiling water for three minutes and drain.
Slice the peppers into long strips. Plunge the tomatoes into boiling water for 10 seconds and remove the skins. Slice the tomatoes into three thick slices each. Chop the onion finely and cut the shallots lengthways in half and then half again.
Make the tomato sauce
Fry the guanciale on a medium heat until, the fat is rendered and the cubes are browned. Remove the cooked guanciale with a slotted spoon and set aside. Strain off half the fat and reserve. Add the olive oil and fry the onions and garlic gently until soft and translucent – about 15 minutes. Add the stock and bring to a boil, turn down and simmer for 5 minutes (this softens the onion and garlic), then add the vinegar, if using, guanciale, chillies if using, tomato passata and puree, sugar and oregano and bay. Cook on low heat for 30-45 minutes.
Roast the vegetables
Gently toss the aubergine, shallots, celery and peppers together with the reserved guanciale fat, the oilve oil, garlic and oregano. Season with salt and pepper and roast in a hot oven for about 20 minutes, then turn the vegetables and scatter the tomatoes on top, return to the oven and continue cooking for another 20 minutes or until the vegetables are soft and brown. Add more olive oil if necessary during cooking.
Finish the dish
Cook the pasta until al dente. Time this so that the pasta can be moved from the water to the sauce just before serving.
Remove the garlic from the vegetables. If they are very soft they can be served for those that want them or if more garlic taste is preferred, mashed with the vegetables. Pick out the bay and chillies from the sauce.
Put the vegetables in a large frying pan or wok. Add tomato sauce until the desired consistency is reached – i.e. not swamped but evenly covered. Heat gently and cook for a few minutes to combine flavours. Then add the pasta and toss gently for a couple of minutes (try not to break up the veg). Add more sauce and pasta water to give a good coating of sauce, not too thick but also not too thin and runny. Season with salt and pepper.
Serve, drizzled with a little good olive oil, basil, Parmesan – and crusty bread.
Check out some more delicious family pasta dishes from What Dad Cooked: Leftover Sausage and Pasta Casserole, Asparagus Vignarola Pappardelle, Artichoke and Tomato Pappardelle or Wild Mushroom Pappardelle