Alasdair and I have a continual disagreement when it comes to pasta. I am of the Mario Batali ideology in that I belive the pasta should be slightly al dente and remain the star of the show while the sauce should be a feisty little sidekick. Alasdair, however, subscribes to the “limp noodle” ideology. Not only does he like his noodles completely soft and overcooked but he also insists on smothering the noodles in sauce until they can no longer breathe. I swear, I hear noodles on his plate calling out to me, “help me, I drowning…..!”
I’ve come to accept the fact that he just does not love pasta the way I do. Give me any shape and size of pasta with just a little bit of butter and sea salt, and I’m a happy girl. In fact, when I don’t feel like cooking an elaborate dinner, and I’m not feeling entirely concerned with the amount of carbs in a big bowl of noodles, I will boil some pasta noodles, add some olive oil or butter and whatever veggies are in the fridge, and call it a night. If I try to serve my big bowl of comfort food to Alasdair, he will quizzically raise his eyebrow and ask, “where’s the sauce?” The question is usually followed with the proclamation that he will make his own dinner.
I tell you all this as a preface to the fact that I finally came up with a nearly sauce-less, almost-vegetarian pasta that did not make Alasdair turn his nose up at my bowl. In fact, he went back for seconds. And, he ate leftovers the next night. This is a big deal, guys. The trick? I used a vegetable he really likes (eggplant), and I added some bacon fat for richness and red chili flakes for spice. The combination is so delicious that even Alasdair couldn’t complain.
Healthy Recipe Ecstasy? Sort of… Pasta is one of those dishes that’s gotten a bad rap over the years. It’s loaded with carbs, it’s not gluten-free, and it’s usually accompanied by dairy. But, if you’re not suffering from a dietary affliction like gluten-sensitivity, pasta doesn’t have to be the bad guy. The key? Eat it in moderation. Don’t make the entire package and eat it in one sitting. Instead, load a small amount of noodles up with veggies, keep the cheese and butter to a minimum and use a small bowl. So, while this dish may not have any fancy dietary labels attached to it like “paleo-friendly,” it’s a delicious way to get in a few servings of veggies!
- 8-10 ounces pasta
- 1 medium eggplant
- Pinch of kosher salt
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 2 slices uncooked bacon
- 1 medium onion
- 5 cloves garlic
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 teaspoons red chili flake
- 4-5 plum tomatoes, diced
- 1 tablespoon oregano
- 1 pinch of salt
- ¼ cup pasta water
- ½ cup Pecorino-Romano cheese
- Heat the oven to 450 degrees F. Cut the eggplant into ½ inch rounds and place them in a colander with a generous pinch of coarse salt. Allow the eggplant to sit for 20 minutes so it releases moisture. Place the eggplant slices on a baking sheet coated with cooking spray and drizzle one tablespoon of olive oil over them. Bake for 12 minutes or until they are soft and beginning to brown.
- Remove from the oven, let cool, and then coarsely chop the eggplant.
- While the eggplant cooks, dice the onion, mince the garlic, and chop the bacon. Heat three tablespoons olive oil in a large skillet over medium high heat. Add the onion and bacon and cook for five minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the garlic and the red chili flakes and cook for another two minutes.
- Add the tomatoes and turn the heat to simmer for five minutes. Add the eggplant, one tablespoon oregano, and another pinch of salt and simmer for another ten minutes.
- While the tomatoes and eggplant are simmering, boil 8-10 ounces of pasta according to the package. Cook one minute less than the directions state and reserve ¼ cup pasta water. If you're gluten-free, feel free to substitute brown rice pasta.
- When the pasta is finished cooking, add it to the large skillet along with the pasta water. Add ½ cup grated Pecorino-Romano cheese and stir all the ingredients together.
- Serve the pasta hot and garnish with more cheese, a few red chili flakes and a final drizzle of olive oil.