It's that time. That time when summer is still hanging around but it has finally started to cool down. So there's plenty of late summer produce at the market but the temps are finally reasonable enough that you can turn on the oven without melting. Which means it's time to make this simple Roasted Eggplant, Crisp Garlic, and Basil Pasta.
Here's why I love this pasta: roasting the eggplant allows you to get the same flavor you'd have from pan-fried eggplant, but with a fraction of the effort and far less fat. And the crisp garlic is a total must — it's like garlic-flavored chips top off the pasta yet the garlic flavor is way more subtle than if it were sauteed. But my favorite part of this recipe is that it has a sort of split personality: you can serve it as is or, if the weather's already Fall-ish in your area, you can add a bit more cheese then stir the whole lot together so it becomes an instant, no fuss pink sauce.
(or 1 Globe eggplant) ends trimmed
divided plus more for garnish
Heat oven to 450°F and arrange a rack in the middle. Slice baby eggplant lengthwse or cut larger eggplant into 1-inch cubes then combine with half of the olive oil and the thyme or oregano. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper and toss to combine. Spread on a silicone baking mat or foil-lined baking sheet in one even layer and roast, stirring a few times, until soft and golden brown, about 20 to 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, bring a large pot of heavily salted water to a boil over high heat. In a large frying pan, heat the remaining oil over medium-high heat. When it shimmers, add garlic and cook until garlic is crisp, golden brown, and fragrant. Remove garlic to a paper towel-lined plate and set aside. Return pan with olive oil to the stove over medium heat and add the tomatoes and vinegar, sugar, season with salt, reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer, stirring occasionally, until slightly thickened, about 10 minutes
Meanwhile, when the water boils, cook pasta according to package directions. Reserve 1 cup of pasta water and drain pasta. Set aside. Add eggplant to pasta sauce and simmer until heated through. Taste, and, add more vinegar is sauce is sweet, or, as needed, add sugar to make the sauce sweeter.
Add reserved pasta to pasta sauce and stir to coat. Add 1/4 cup of the reserved pasta water and stir until each piece of pasta is just coated with the sauce. Add additional pasta water as needed to help the sauce coat the pasta. Remove from heat, top with cheese, basil, and crisp garlic and season with additional salt and pepper, as desired. Finish pasta with a drizzle of additional olive oil and serve.
Food styling and photography by Aida Mollenkamp