Eggplant can be a tricky vegetable. If cooked for too long, it becomes mushy and unappetizing. Cooked too short, and it's tough and inedible. Despite this, I find myself always buying eggplants—I think I'm easily persuaded by their gorgeous purple hue.
The ones at the farmers' market have been exceptionally beautiful, and I'm always determined to cook them to perfection. With my two new eggplants in tow last weekend, I began brainstorming recipes for a hearty new dish—and when I came across this recipe, I knew I'd found the one.
Tender enough to pierce with a fork, yet firm enough to retain its bite—this eggplant reminded me why I loved the veggie to begin with. A flavorful homemade tomato sauce is the perfect complementary component, and fresh mozzarella adds creaminess and comfort. It's like a better version of eggplant parmesan, and I enjoyed separating the veggie from its usual cheese of choice. Plus, there's really no reason to bread and fry eggplant. This dish proves as much!
I decided to pair the eggplant with angel hair pasta to make a one-dish meal that's wonderfully satisfying. Can't wait for leftovers tonight!
Eggplant Marinara with Mozzarella & Angel Hair
- 2 medium eggplants (I used Italian heirlooms, which are round and light purple in color)
- 2-3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
- 1 4-oz. ball fresh buffalo mozzarella, sliced into thin rounds
- 8 oz. angel hair pasta
- handful of fresh parsley, chopped
For the tomato sauce:
- 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
- 1/2 large red onion, diced
- 3 garlic cloves, minced
- one 28 oz. can crushed tomatoes, no salt added
- 1 bay leaf
- 2 sprigs fresh thyme
- pinch of Italian seasonings and dried oregano, to taste
- pinch of white or brown sugar
- sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Preheat oven to 350°F. Cut the stem off the eggplants and slice lengthwise into 1/2" planks. Place the slices in a colander, sprinkle with salt, and leave to drain while you prepare the sauce.
In a large saucepan, heat oil over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic and sauté until soft, about 7 to 10 minutes. Add the entire can of tomatoes (with their juice) and the bay leaf, and bring the mixture to a simmer. Simmer for about half an hour, until the sauce is thick, stirring often. Season thyme, Italian seasoning, oregano, salt, and pepper, and a pinch of white or brown sugar (I used brown). Remove the bay leaf.
While the sauce is simmering, rinse the eggplant slices, pat dry with a paper towel, and heat a large frying pan over medium-high heat. Add 1 tablespoon of the oil, and cook the eggplant slices about 2 minutes on each side, until golden. Repeat until all the slices have been cooked, adding a splash of olive oil to the pan after each batch.
Layer half of the eggplant slices in an ovenproof dish, cover with half of the sauce, and place half of the mozzarella slices on top. Repeat with the rest of the eggplant, sauce, and mozzarella.
Bake the dish until bubbling and golden, 30 to 35 minutes. While the dish is in the oven, cook the angel hair pasta in salted boiling water until al dente, about 5 minutes. Drain, toss with a drizzle of olive oil, and sprinkle with fresh parsley.
To assemble the dish, place the angel hair in a bowl, add a serving of the eggplant, and finish with salt, pepper, and fresh parsley.
Recipe adapted from River Cottage Veg.