I’m not a hugger. I’m not good at giving compliments or telling friends I love you. I’m not always good at talking about important things and I sometimes forget birthdays. But I do know how to feed.
A couple weeks ago I had two of my best buds from middle school visit (you’ll know for me those aren’t even the longest friendships I have, but let’s not split hairs.) For three days my quiet, tiny San Francisco apartment was filled with giggles, shrieks, squeals, and everything else that makes you miss your old girlfriends. And I became a sixth grader. I bickered with them, shared a tiny little bed with them and didn’t sleep, woke up cranky and pouty and overly defensive of my questionable outfit choice. But one thing was different – I cooked for them. Baked pasta. With cheese. And eggplant. And sausage. I call it Love in a Pan.
I’ve been making this dish for loved ones for a long time. It’s taken from Tyler’s Ultimate – that show where Tyler Florence picks a dish and figures out how to make the most ultimate version of it. This was from his baked pasta episode, and it really lives up to the name. It’s very serious and not for the faint-hearted, with lots of everything, especially cheese. It does takes some time sauteeing the eggplant, browning the sausage, making the pasta, and then baking it all until beautiful, golden, and bubbly. It’s done best when you’re hanging out with some people you can pass days or years with, especially over a bottle of red wine. You can save time a few places – half the time (okay, more than half) I throw in pre-made marinara sauce instead of starting with the canned San Marzanos. I also usually end up buying pre-cooked chicken sausage instead of the raw pork, so all you have to do is brown it. This stuff lasts for days and I never get sick of it. We ate it all weekend – for dinner, and then when ravenously hungry around 2am later that night. Probably while laughing a lot.
Baked Rigatoni with Eggplant and Sausage
Adapted from Tyler Florence
- Kosher Salt
- Olive oil
- 6 links italian sausage (pork or chicken), chopped
- 1 large eggplant, cut into 1-inch pieces
- 1 large onion, chopped (if making sauce)
- 3 garlic cloves, chopped (if making sauce)
- 1 large can (28 ounces) peeled whole tomatoes, preferably San Marzano (or a bottle of San Marzano tomato sauce)
- A bunch of basil
- 1 pound rigatoni
- 1 pound fresh mozzarella
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 1 cup freshly grated good Parmesan cheese
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and cook pasta to while you start prepping everything else. Get out a big baking pan. Don’t overcook the pasta!
Heat a 2 count of olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the sausages and toss in the hot oil for 3 to 4 minutes, until nicely browned. Set aside in a large bowl.
Turn the heat down to medium. Add a generous 1/3 cup of oil to the skillet and get it hot. Add as many eggplant pieces as you can comfortably fit in a single layer and sprinkle well with salt. Cook, turning, for 7 to 8 minutes, until the eggplant browned on the outside and soft on the inside. Repeat as needed for the rest of the eggplant, and add to bowl.
If making sauce: Add another 2 count of oil to the skillet, then your onion and garlic, and cook for 3 to 4 minutes, until translucent. Dump the whole can of tomatoes and their juices into a bowl and crush the tomatoes with your hands to break them up; add that to the pan with the basil and cook it down until pulpy and relatively thick, about 15 minutes. If using pre-made sauce, skip this step!
Add the tomato sauce, rigatoni, half the mozzarella, and salt and pepper to the bowl and mix. Pour this into your baking sheet, cover with the other half of the mozzarella and dust with Parmesan cheese. Drizzle with a touch more olive oil and baked for half an hour or until deeply golden brown. Share with good people.