Smoky Eggplant Pasta with Spicy Breadcrumbs

This pasta has a secret, a savory smoky secret. At first glance, the sauce appears to be a standard tomato-cream concoction, when in reality it gets a serious boost of flavor from charred eggplant mash. You start the process the same way you would make baba ganoush: charring whole eggplants on the grill until the skin crisps and burns, then scooping out the velvety flesh, which takes on an intense smokiness during the grilling process. The sauce comes together with some oil packed anchovies, tomato paste, calabrian chili, white wine, and a touch of cream.

Preparing charred eggplant

Step 1: Grilling

While this process is a bit time intensive, it is relatively hands off. First, simply poke your eggplants with a fork all over. This will help steam escape as your eggplants cook.

Place your eggplants on a preheated grill, no oil needed. Ultimately, you want the skin to get burnt and crisp, which takes about 30-40 minutes. To ensure even cooking, flip each eggplant every 10 or so minutes. The images below show the eggplants after 0, 10, 30, and 40 minutes, respectively. You can certainly use an oven if you don’t have a grill, but grill is preferred as you get the most smokey flavor. For oven instructions, check out this Serious Eats baba ganoush recipe, and scroll to the section titled “broiler instructions.”

Step 2: Draining

Next, you’ll need to remove the skin. It should slide right off at this point, but you may need to wait until you can comfortably touch the eggplant without burning yourself. Eggplants are mostly water, so you want to drain the excess liquid to ensure maximum creaminess. Simply placed the skinned eggplants in a strainer over a bowl as you prep your other ingredients. You’ll be surprised how much liquid drains off!

 

Step 3: Mashing

Finally, you can mash your eggplant. Simply remove the top stems, then use a fork to vigorously stir until a smooth mash forms.


Smoky Eggplant Pasta with Spicy Breadcrumbs

Recipe by Molly MossCourse: PastaDifficulty: Moderate
Servings

3-4

bowls
Total time

1

hour 

30

minutes

This pasta has a secret, a savory smoky secret. At first glance, the sauce appears to be a standard tomato-cream concoction, when in reality it gets a serious boost of flavor from charred eggplant mash. You start the process the same way you would make baba ganoush: charring whole eggplants on the grill until the skin crisps and burns, then scooping out the velvety flesh, which takes on an intense smokiness during the grilling process. The sauce comes together with some oil packed anchovies, tomato paste, white wine, and a touch of cream.

Ingredients

  • For the smoky eggplant pasta
  • 3 pounds eggplant

  • Olive oil

  • 1 shallot, thinly sliced

  • 4-6 oil packed anchovy filets

  • 4 cloves garlic, minced

  • 2 tbsp tomato paste

  • ¼ cup white wine

  • 1 tbsp red wine vinegar

  • ½-1 tbsp calabrian chili paste, or chili flakes to taste

  • 2 tbsp butter, optional

  • ½ cup cream

  • 8 oz dried tagliatelle, or 1 pound fresh

  • ½-1 cup reserved pasta water

  • 1 cup freshly grated parmesan, grana padano, or pecorino romano, plus more for topping

  • Salt and pepper to taste

  • Minced parsley, for topping

  • For the spicy breadcrumbs
  • 3 tbsp butter

  • ½ cup panko breadcrumbs

  • Zest of 1 lemon

  • Chili flakes, to taste

  • Salt and pepper, to taste

Directions

  • First, prepare the eggplant mash and make the breadcrumbs (the following steps can be completed hours before you are ready to eat. The eggplant mash can be made up to a full day in advance)
  • Preheat a grill over medium heat. Use a fork to prick holes all over the eggplants.
  • Place the eggplants on the grill (no oil needed) and cover. Grill for about 30-40 minutes, flipping every 10 minutes. You want the skin to be deeply charred and the flesh inside to be very soft. The skin will protect the flesh from getting burned, but the flesh will absorb a good amount of smoky flavor throughout the process. Remove from the grill and set aside to cool slightly. If you don’t have a grill, you can use your oven. See the instructions here.
  • Place a strainer over a bowl. When you can comfortably touch the eggplants, carefully peel off the skin (it should come off quite easily) and discard. Place the flesh in the strainer. Let sit while you prepare the rest of the ingredients. Eggplants are mostly water, and this will allow excess liquid to drain out.
  • While the eggplants drain, make the breadcrumbs: heat a small pan and add the butter to melt. Add the panko and saute over medium low heat, stirring regularly to avoid burning. Add the lemon zest and a very generous amount of chili flakes. Continue to stir until the breadcrumbs are golden brown. Remove from heat, taste, and add salt and pepper to taste. Pour into a bowl and set aside.
  • Once all the liquid has drained, discard the top stems of the eggplant and transfer the flesh to a bowl. Use a fork to vigorously stir until a smooth mash forms.
  • Next, cook and assemble the pasta
  • Bring a large pot of heavily salted water to a boil for the pasta.
  • In a large saute pan, heat some olive oil over medium, then add the shallots. Saute until soft, about 2-3 minutes. Add the anchovies and garlic, and use your spoon to break the anchovies up. Saute for another 2 minutes or so.
  • Add the tomato paste and saute, stirring regularly, for an additional 1-2 minutes. You want to lightly caramelize the paste without burning it.
  • Add the wine, red wine vinegar, and calabrian chili paste. Let the alcohol burn off for about 1-2 minutes, then add the eggplant mash along with 2 tbsp of butter. Stir until fully incorporated. Add the cream and saute for 1-2 minutes. Taste, and add salt, pepper, and more chili to taste. At this point you can remove from heat until your pasta is ready.
  • Cook your pasta according to the instructions and drain, reserving 1 cup of pasta water.
  • Heat the sauce on low, then add the cooked pasta, along with ½ cup pasta water and 1 cup parmesan cheese. Stir vigorously until fully incorporated and a smooth sauce forms. Add more pasta water if needed to get your desired sauce consistency, I needed about ¾ of a cup.
  • Split into serving bowls and top with lots of breadcrumbs, chopped parsley, and more freshly grated cheese.
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