Well, I hope you didn’t think I forgot about you! I sincerely apologize for my lengthy hiatus. I had had big plans to write a post before heading off to Italy last Monday, but for some reason, I just couldn’t get it together. Shocking, I know. Between packing, eating, sleeping, and touring all historical landmarks within a 30-mile radius of Charlottesville, I had little time to think. My apologies.
So, before I left for Italy to eat pasta by the pound, Andrew the H and I took the in laws on a culinary tour of our lovely city of Charlottesville, VA. You know, since I was worried that my pants wouldn’t fit after Italy, I had to make sure that they were already nice and snug before I even left the United States. We managed to pack in three out of the first five presidents’ homes in two days plus a tour of UVA plus three square meals. A job well done if you ask me! Don’t worry though, my pants did in fact fit for the 11-hour plane ride home (that’s right, ELEVEN freaking hours in one tiny cramped plane seat). Thank you, Mr. Stretchy Pants Inventor. You are truly a lifesaver.
(Side note: Beth, if you are reading this, it is in fact impossible to lose weight in Italy. I’m just sayin’)
I digress. In preparation for my trip to Italy, I decided to make an Italian dish to get in the spirit. Obviously. So, I turned to my Italian friend, Giada deLaurentiis, who always shows me the way with her pasta recipes (though lately she has been doing a few crazy things on her show that I am not too sure about). I had an eggplant, and I wanted spaghetti. Voila, Baked Eggplant Spaghetti. Thanks, G! And while her recipe for Baked Eggplant Spaghetti served as the basis for this recipe, mine took a decidedly different turn as I ditched the puff pastry, added red peppers, and upped the spice factor with more red pepper flakes. We like it hot around here.
I’m sure you must be thinking, “Brooke, why are you posting winter-y baked pasta dishes at the end of May? Are you crazy?” Well, yes, but I swear we had a little cold spell in Virginia when I made this. Plus, it is so warm and comforting yet still light and delicious. And besides, who says you can’t eat baked spaghetti in the summer? A silly person, that’s who.
This dish is versatile, too. For example, swap spaghetti for angel hair. Add your favorite cheese instead of mozzarella (goat cheese or cheddar could be nice). Use spicy italian sausage instead of buffalo. Ditch the meat altogether. Experiment with different herbs. As Claire Robinson would say, BYOC! Be Your Own Chef. I’m sorry, that was bad. I’m fully aware, but I am also too tired to care.
Spicy Baked Eggplant Spaghetti
Inspired by Giada deLaurentiis
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large eggplant
4 ounces spaghetti
1/2 lb. ground buffalo (or Italian sausage)
1 cup diced red onion (1/2 of large red onion or 1 small onion)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 red bell pepper, diced
1.5 cups marinara sauce
1 cup mozzarella cheese, diced
3/4 cup grated parmesan reggiano cheese, divided
1 tablespoon red pepper flakes (or less if you want it less spicy! this is pretty hot)
1/4 cup bread crumbs or Panko
Basil for serving
Preheat the oven to 400°F.
Slice eggplant about one inch thick then cut each slice into 1-inch pieces. Toss eggplant with one tablespoon of olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Roast eggplant until golden brown, about 30 minutes. Set aside.
Reduce oven temperature to 375°F.
Heat remaining one tablespoon of oil in a heavy bottomed pan. Saute onions until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and saute another minute or two. Add buffalo and brown, about 5 minutes. Add red pepper and cook until beginning to soften, about 2 minutes. Add 1.5 cups marinara sauce (either homemade or good quality store-bought) and stir to combine.
Bring large pot of water to a boil. Season water generously with salt (this flavors the pasta!). Cook spaghetti (or angel hair if your prefer) according to package directions or until al dente, firm to the bite. Reserve about 1 cup of pasta water. Drain spaghetti and add to marinara mixture.
Add roasted eggplant and red pepper flakes to pasta mixture. Taste and season with salt and pepper. Turn off heat and let cool for about 15 minutes (pasta will still be warm). Mix in mozzarella cubes and 1/2 cup of parmesan cheese. Add pasta water to loosen if too the mixture looks too dry. Transfer spicy eggplant pasta mixture to a casserole dish. Combine bread crumbs and remaining parmesan cheese. Sprinkle over the top of the pasta dish and drizzle lightly with olive oil.
Bake until cheese is golden on top and mixture is bubbly and warmed through. Let pasta rest for 5 to 10 minutes. Sprinkle with basil.
Serve with a green salad and crusty bread. Enjoy!