A few weeks ago I got some exciting news.
I was asked to be a contributor to a special project over at jamieoliver.com!
You may have already heard about Jamie Oliver and his global “Food Revolution.” The goal is to promote proper access to affordable, healthy and nutritious food for all children, while tackling important issues such as malnutrition and obesity (read all about it and join here).
The revolution centers around teaching people the basics of food, nutrition and cooking…the major inspiration for starting this blog.
For the next few months, I will be sharing my twists on Jamie’s top 10 recipes that help arm people with basic cooking skills. These skills can become a major weapon in the fight against obesity and disease.
This week’s recipe is a twist on his classic spaghetti and tomato sauce.
I love eggplant. I love eggplant in my pasta. So, I decided I’d go with one of my favorite pasta dishes…Spaghetti alla Norma. It’s a Sicilian dish usually made with fried eggplant and topped with ricotta salata cheese.
For my recipe I roast the eggplant in the oven rather than fry it. I find it allows the flavor of the eggplant to really intensify while at the same time being less oily and a bit lighter. The whole wheat spaghetti adds a delicious, slightly earthy flavor that goes so well with the roasted eggplant and salty cheese.
Before I get to the recipe, I also wanted to share with you a trick I’ve been using for years, to make a quick and easy tomato sauce.
If you’ve ever watched Mario Batali cook tomato sauce he often uses something called a “soffritto.” It’s the Italian version of the French “mirepoix” (basically fancy words for a mix of carrots, onions and celery). They add tremendous flavor to soups, stews and sauces. I rarely make my tomato sauce without it.
The key to a quick sauce is to have the soffritto ready in advance. I usually chop up the veggies in my Cuisinart then freeze it. Once frozen, I transfer the cubes into a ziplock bag where they are ready to go whenever I need them! The soffritto is sautéed in a bit of olive oil and garlic before adding in the tomatoes.
*To make soffritto: combine 1 onion (quartered), 3-4 large carrots (quartered), 2-3 celery stalks (with leaves/halved) into a food processor. Pulse until chopped into tiny pieces about the size of rice grains. Spoon mixture into ice cube tray and freeze. Once frozen, store in a freezer safe ziplock bag. You can add them frozen right to the pan!
How about this gorgeous eggplant? Although delicious, I find the tough skin hard to digest. I like to peel most, but not all, of the skin as I go around the eggplant.
I use a large sauté pan to cook the tomato sauce. It only takes about 20-25 minutes to cook. Once the spaghetti is done, I toss it into the pan with the tomato sauce and roasted eggplant so all the flavors get absorbed into the pasta. This is key!
The dish is topped with thin slices of ricotta salata cheese and of course some fresh basil and grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese!
- 3 frozen cubes of soffritto mixture (see above)*
- 1 28 oz. can crushed tomatoes
- 1 lb. whole wheat spaghetti
- 1 large eggplant (or 2 small-medium) partially peeled as described above and cut into 1½ in. cubes
- 1 clove garlic chopped
- 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil for sauce + 1 tbsp for eggplant
- 1 small block ricotta salata cheese
- 1 small block parmigiano reggiano cheese
- fresh basil leaves
- course salt
- 1 tbsp dried italian herbs or oregano
- crushed red pepper flakes *optional
- Preheat oven to 450 F.
- Begin to bring a large pot of generously salted water to a boil.
- In meantime, heat oil in a large skillet on medium heat.
- Add the frozen soffritto cubes (gently they may cause the oil to splatter) and cook for 3-4 minutes until broken down and soft.
- Add the chopped garlic and sauté for 30 seconds until fragrant.
- Add the tomatoes, herbs and simmer for 20 minutes stirring occasionally.
- While the tomatoes are simmering and water is coming to a boil, toss eggplant onto a baking sheet with a pinch of salt, olive oil and roast in the oven for about 12-15 minutes until golden and soft but not too mushy (you want the eggplant to have a bit of texture).
- While the eggplant is cooking, toss the spaghetti into the boiling water and cook as directed until al dente.
- Drain the cooked spaghetti and add it directly into the tomato sauce with the roasted eggplant and let sit for 5 minutes.
- Serve in bowls with some shredded chunks of ricotta salata and grated parmigiano reggiano cheese.
- Top with fresh basil and crushed red pepper (for a little kick if desired).