Baked Ziti with Eggplant

Last night, my son and grandson joined my husband and me for dinner. I made baked ziti with eggplant.

The nicest compliment was when my son said the ziti was one of the top five meals I’d ever made. He said he wished it was served in a restaurant so he could get more whenever he wanted. (No need for that, honey; just say when:-)) It was all music to my ears. I’d been working on making a good batch of baked ziti and eggplant for years.

I love roasted eggplant. I was taught by my mother to sweat (salt and drain) eggplant before cooking to rid it of its bitterness. Indeed, for most of my adult life, I have equated the brown liquid that dripped from the colander during sweating as the color of bitterness. The more brown liquid in the sink, the more successful I thought I would be in producing a delicious eggplant dish. But recently I learned the true reason for sweating had nothing to do with bitterness and everything to do with the anatomy of eggplant. Eggplant is porous. It is full of small air pockets that can absorb oil like a sponge when fried. Sweating draws out the water from the cells. The water that is released floods the tiny air pockets essentially eliminating the open spaces that frying oil would otherwise occupy. Since I don’t fry eggplant, this summer I eliminated this extra time-consuming step and went straight to brushing each raw slice of eggplant with olive oil before roasting.

The results have been delightful. At a recent dinner party, guests started gobbling down these unadorned slices of roasted eggplant before I even got to the step of smothering them with marinara sauce and mozzarella. This is why I roast vegetables, you get to taste their essence.

Recently, I went to the Richland Farmers Market in Nashville and bought these gorgeous, violet, svelte, Italian varieties of eggplant (melanzana, in Italian) from the Corner Spring Farm. They had delightful names like Violeta di Toscano, Rosa Blanca, Clara, and Beatrice.

When I got home, I added them to the hefty stash of Black Beauty and Japanese eggplants I had harvested from my garden. I decided to make a day of it and cook all the eggplants at once. When I trimmed and peeled the skin, I was surprised to see the contrast in color of my stash and the Italian varieties. Their flesh was so much whiter. Once roasted, I noticed the Italian varieties were denser and maintained their shape better, too, plus they had the mouth-feel of artichoke hearts. Yum. Now I know why my mother would always pick up an Italian eggplant whenever she saw one in a market; there is a difference. Next summer, I’m planning on growing the Italian varieties.

Ingredients 

The ingredients list is segmented by the cooking steps for the eggplant, marinara sauce, pasta, and basil and cheese layers.

4 or 5 medium-sized eggplants (I didn’t weigh them before cooking, but after cooking I had one pound of eggplant equaling 3 cups)
3 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
6 cloves garlic, crushed and chopped
2 28-ounce cans whole Italian plum tomatoes
1 tablespoon fine sea salt
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 teaspoons granulated sugar
¼ cup fresh basil leaves, roughly chopped

6 quarts water
1 tablespoon fine salt
1 pound penne ziti rigate pasta, cooked to al dente

1 pound sliced and then chopped, mozzarella
1 cup finely grated parmesan ( about 3 ounces)
1 cup basil leaves, about ¾ ounce

Mise en Place

Instructions

Preheat oven to 425º

Remove the stem, and peel and slice the eggplant. Slice them about one-half inch thick; better to err on the side of thicker than thinner slices.
 

Pour olive oil in a bowl and brush each side of each slice very lightly with oil. I only used 3 tablespoons of oil for all the eggplants pictured above.

Arrange the eggplant slices on parchment paper-lined baking sheets. Roast for 30-40 minutes. If you want them browned on each side, turn them over after about 20 minutes. I do not bother with this extra step. They should only be lightly browned when done. If you can’t decide if they are cooked enough, try tasting one. That’s what I do. You want them to be firm enough to hold their shape.

At this point, you could store the slices for one or two days in the refrigerator, or freeze. To prep for this recipe, measure out one pound (about 3 cups) and chop into 1.5 to 2 inch segments. Set aside.

DSC_5175.jpg

While eggplant is roasting, start the marinara sauce. Heat olive oil in a 6-quart frying pan over low heat. Add garlic and sauté for about 2 minutes. Do not allow garlic to brown. Pour the tomatoes into the pan breaking them up with your fingertips as you do. Add salt, cayenne, and sugar. Bring to a boil over high heat stirring frequently. Turn heat down to medium-low and simmer for 15 minutes. Stir in the fresh basil and turn the heat off. Set aside.
 

While the sauce simmers and the eggplant roasts, start a large pot of salted water over high heat for the ziti. When water comes to a full boil, add the ziti, bring it back to a full boil, stirring frequently, and cook until al dente. Drain the pasta. The pasta will cook more as it bakes.

Now you are ready to layer all the ingredients into a 9 by 13-inch casserole.

Preheat oven to 400º.

Pour two cupfuls of sauce into the bottom of casserole pan.
Add half of pasta, half of eggplant, half of basil, half of mozzarella and one-third of parmesan,

Repeat layering starting with half of the remaining sauce, the rest of the pasta, basil, and mozzarella, and a third of the parmesan. End with the remaining sauce followed by the last of the grated parmesan.

Bake for 20 minutes on the middle rack of the oven.

Related Italian Dishes
Grandma’s Italian Fried Cauliflower
Fresh Marinara Sauce with Pasta
Spiralized Zucchini (aka Zoodles) with Marinara Sauce
Roasted Ratatouille
Italian Pasta and Bean Soup, aka Pasta e Fagioli

Always check the website for the most current version of a recipe.

© 2014-2017 Judy Wright. All rights reserved. Photos and text may only be used with written consent.

Roasted Patty Pan Squash

Patty Pan, Scalloped, and Flying Saucer are all perfect names for this whimsical variety of summer squash known for its ornately scalloped edges and shades of color ranging from pale yellow, to variegated yellow and green, to dark green. The color of this particular variety, called “Flying Saucer,” is temperature dependent — it will turn green when temps become very hot in the summer.

Patty Pans are kin to other varieties of summer squash such as zucchini, yellow crooknecks, and “Cubes of Butter” all of which ripen between June and September.

Summer squashes are thin-skinned with tender interiors. They can be eaten raw with their peel intact. Compare that to mature winter squashes such as butternutacorn, spaghetti, and pumpkin, with their hard outer skins, firm interior flesh, and fibrous seeds. They need a little more attention when cooked, but man, are they good, too!!

   

How to Grow Patty Pans

I grew these patty pans with my other summer squashes in a 4 x 13 foot raised bed. I planted the seeds on April 3rd and started harvesting around June 10th. Here is how the bed looked on April 8th, (the day they germinated), May 10th, and on June 10th when I started harvesting. One plant will bear two to three successive harvests before dying off.

It is best to pick patty pans when they are less than 4 inches in diameter.

How to Cook Roasted Patty Pan Squash (and other varieties of summer squash)

For roasting most vegetables, I think Mary Kane’s (aka Mom’s) trinity of McCormick’s Garlic Pepper, fine sea salt, and extra-virgin olive oil is a surefire way to a successful dish.

My mother was a fantastic cook whose nightly dinners were legendary. A big tip was to keep dinner simple. Basically, she prepared a protein, a starch and a vegetable or two every night. There were no fancy sauces or ingredients for which she had to spend hours searching. Her daily ten-mile drive to Walkers Roadside Stand, along the bucolic Sakonnet River in Little Compton, R.I. was more of a peaceful escape than a trip to hunt down ingredients.

IMG_0142

She learned early on that roasting vegetables enhanced their natural goodness, and that includes sweetness. I, in turn, learned by cooking by her side most of my life.

PC310065

Ingredients

2 pounds Patty Pan squash
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
¾ teaspoon fine sea salt (or, to taste)
¾ teaspoon garlic pepper

Mise en Place

Instructions

Preheat oven to 400º.

Wash and dry veggies and cut off stems. Slice each squash into three segments.

Place slices in a bowl and toss with Mary Kane’s Trinity.

Arrange slices in a single layer in a large parchment-lined roasting pan.

Roast for 40-45 minutes. Flip over halfway if you want both sides browned. I don’t bother with this extra step.

I love the unique squashy taste and denseness of these Patty Pan slices.

Serve squash with:
Cooking Dinner in an Unfocused Way, or Ode to the Rice Cooker
Easy Roasted Salmon with Olive Oil and Garlic Pepperor
Lemony Grilled Chicken Breast
Very Berry Clafoutis or Ellen’s Most Moist Zucchini Bread for dessert

Always check the website for the most current version of a recipe.

© 2014-2017 Judy Wright. All rights reserved. Photos and text may only be used with written consent.

Meera’s Arugula, Feta, Dried Cherry, and Toasted Almond Salad

If you need to bring a side or a salad to a Labor Day Weekend fête, I’ve got just the one.

This salad is quick, colorful, and delicious with the added bonus that it could easily become dinner with the addition of sliced grilled chicken. The first time I had it, on the weekend of the eclipse, my good friend, and relative, Meera Ballal, brought all the ingredients over in a Trader Joe’s grocery sack. By the time the chicken was grilled, the salad was assembled and on the table. Everyone loved it!

Yield: Serves 10-12 as a side dish

Ingredients
2  7-ounce bags arugula, (have a third on standby to perk up the salad)
1  8-ounce package dried, tart Montmorency cherries
1  6-ounce package crumbled feta cheese (sometimes Meera uses 2 containers)
1  8-ounce package raw, sliced almonds
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Judy’s Chickens Every Day Salad Dressing or TJ’s Balsamic Vinaigrette
Lemony Grilled Chicken Breasts  (optional)

Mise en Place

Instructions

Put the arugula, feta and dried cherries in an extra-large mixing bowl that leaves plenty of room for tossing the ingredients together.

Next, toast the almonds in olive oil to enhance their nutty flavor. To do so, pour olive oil in a warmed medium-sized sauté pan. Add almonds and mix to coat. Sauté over medium-low heat for about two minutes. Meera told me to stir the nuts almost constantly because they go from toasted to burned, quickly. She said, with her infectious laugh, “This is not the time to multitask in the kitchen.” She was right about that. The nuts went from creamy-white to brown, to dark brown around the edges of the pan in the blink of an eye. When they start to brown, dump them immediately into a small bowl to stop the cooking process. Keep the nuts warm in a separate bowl until dinner time.

 

Just before serving, add the nuts and salad dressing. I like to use my own homemade salad dressing  @judyschickens Everyday Salad Dressing.  I sprinkle a little white balsamic vinegar over the greens for added “bite” before tossing. The greens start to collapse quickly, so don’t add dressing until you are ready to serve.

For the grilled chicken, try my chicken marinade recipe, Lemony Thyme Grilled Chicken Breasts.  The lemon and thyme in the chicken enhance the flavor of the salad.

The cost of this salad? $17.14 if you use your own salad dressing.

For a fun Labor day activity, check out Catfishing with Noodles on Lake Barkley, Kentucky!

Always check the website for the most current version of a recipe. Thanks!

© 2014-2017 Judy Wright. All rights reserved. Photos and text may only be used with written consent.