This week’s Eggplant and Sausage Rigatoni can be served as a tossed pasta entree on the night you prepare it, and then you can turn half of the pasta into a baked pasta casserole for later.
I suggest roasting the eggplant, but you can also saute it in olive oil. I roast it because it doesn’t require much supervision and uses less oil.
Another way to prepare the eggplant is in the microwave. Place the eggplant in a microwave-safe bowl, sprinkle with a little garlic salt and microwave on high for three minutes. Remove from the microwave and stir. Return to the microwave and cook three more minutes. Stir and repeat in one more cooking cycle of three minutes, or until eggplant is tender. The eggplant won’t brown in the microwave, but it will still taste great in the sauce.
Use your favorite Italian sausage in the recipe – hot or sweet; pork, turkey or chicken. I use the hot chicken version because it is extremely lean, but delicious.
I love to make a pot of homemade marinara on a Sunday afternoon, but you can use a jar of tomato-basil pasta sauce if you’re short on time. If you simmer the sauce I’m including my recipe, it makes three quarts. You’ll need one quart for the recipe and can freeze the rest for later. I use anchovies in my sauce base – they add a subtle saltiness – but the sauce is still delicious if you don’t use them.
The eggplant, sauce and pasta are tossed in a big bowl with diced fresh mozzarella cheese. Serve half of the pasta right away. Spread the rest in a greased baking dish. Sprinkle with grated mozzarella, cover tightly and freeze.
A tossed salad is all you need to complete your menu.
EGGPLANT AND SAUSAGE RIGATONI
1 large eggplant, peeled and cut into small cubes, about 4 cups
Garlic salt, to taste
1/3 cup olive oil
1 pound rigatoni or other pasta
1 pound Italian sausage, sweet or hot
1 quart homemade marinara sauce or 1 26-ounce jar tomato-basil pasta sauce
16 ounces fresh mozzarella cheese, cut into cubes
Shredded mozzarella cheese, if using half to make a casserole for a future dinner
Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Toss the eggplant in the olive oil and season lightly with garlic salt. Spread on a baking sheet and roast for 30 minutes, stirring after 15 minutes. Set aside.
While the eggplant roasts, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and cook pasta according to package directions. Drain and set aside. Crumble the sausage into the Dutch oven and brown until completely cooked, breaking it up with a wooden spoon as you cook it. Drain off any fat, add the tomato-basil sauce and bring to a simmer. Place the pasta, eggplant and sausage in a large bowl and pour sauce over the top. Stir in cubes of fresh mozzarella cheese and serve.
Serve half of the pasta immediately. To save the other half for later, spray a 3-quart baking dish with olive oil or regular cooking spray. Spread the half of the eggplant-pasta mixture in the dish and sprinkle with the shredded mozzarella. Cover and freeze or bake immediately at 350 for 30 minutes, until bubbly. If you freeze the casserole, defrost it overnight in the refrigerator and then let it sit out at room temperature for 30 minutes to 1 hour.
Bake for 45 minutes. Makes 8 servings.
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
4 teaspoons minced garlic, about 4 large cloves
1 tin anchovies, undrained
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 6-ounce can tomato paste
1 32-ounce can Italian plum tomatoes
1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes
1 28-ounce can tomato sauce
1 tablespoon sugar
Salt, to taste
Fresh basil cut into a fine chiffonade, about ½ cup, optional
Heat oil in a large saucepan or Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add onion and saute until soft, lowering heat if the onions start to brown. Stir in garlic, anchovies (if using), oregano and red pepper flakes and cook until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Stir in the tomato paste and cook, stirring constantly, for about 2 minutes. Use your hands to crush the tomatoes into the pan and then add the juices to the pan. Add remaining tomato products and sugar. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low and simmer for 1 hour. Taste and add salt, as needed. Stir in the basil, if desired.
Makes about 3 quarts of sauce.