Rigatoni alla Siciliana

In NYC my family has a restaurant next door to our apartment that’s like a second dining room for us. Delicious pastas, large vegetable sides and great people. Rigatoni alla Siciliana has always been my order. We all ooh and aah over the silkiness of the eggplant with no bitterness in sight… it’s magic. We eat there so often that it’s a dish we never replicated, but when I moved to Philadelphia it was one of the hardest things for me to say goodbye to so I had to learn to make my own! 

This is more of a “recipe” than a recipe because I don’t measure anything but I am going to guesstimate my eyeballing of ingredients for you. 

What you’ll need:

  • A pot to boil pasta water 

  • A dutch oven ( I have a 6 quart lodge)

  • Big wooden spoon

  • Cutting board and knife

Ingredients:

  • 1 pound of pasta, I like to use rigatoni or fusilli for this recipe 

  • 2 medium organic eggplant (I like to use organic because we are eating the skin)

  • 6-10 TBS olive oil (eyeball this)

  • 3-4 cloves of garlic 

  • 1 Tsp chili flakes 

  • Salt

  • 6oz can or tube of tomato paste 

  • 1 cup parmesan or pecorino romano

  • 1/2 cup parsley and/or basil (optional) 

  • Mozzarella (optional) 

Put on your pasta water to boil, I would use at least 8 cups of water for a pound of pasta. HEAVILY salt your water, this means add at least 3-4 TBS of salt to your water. Put a lid on your pot to help bring it to a boil faster and this helps you not lose water when it does come to a boil. 

After you put your water on, start on the eggplant. First put your dutch oven over medium/high heat. Make sure to wash your eggplant because we are leaving the skin on. Cube up your eggplant into 1/2 inch cubes, they don’t need to be perfect because this is going to cook down to the point where your knife skills don’t matter. Cover the bottom of your dutch oven with olive oil, this is about 5-6 TBS of oil. Add your eggplant and season it with a pinch of salt, we want to season as we go so it’s evenly distributed. Let the eggplant sit for about 3 minutes and stir, let sit again and stir again. You don’t want to constantly stir but you also want to give all of the eggplant equal opportunity in the bottom of the pot. Add some more oil if you feel like it needs it. Eggplant is like a sponge, it will suck up all of the oil at first but once it’s cooked it will let some of that oil out again. Once the eggplant’s texture is starting to change add your sliced garlic and chili flakes, if you don’t have fresh garlic you can also use 1 TBS of granulated garlic.

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By the time all of your eggplant is cooked (about 10 minutes) and has taken on a different texture and persona your water should be boiling. Add your pasta and set a timer for 1 minute less than the instructions call for al dente, make sure to cook your pasta without the lid on. Once your pasta is in, it’s time to add the tomato paste to your eggplant! Turn the heat down to more of a medium/ low and add the whole can, yes, the WHOLE can. Stir it in and let the eggplant continue to cook. 

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When there is about 2 minutes left for the pasta take 1 cup of the pasta water and add it to the eggplant which will make the eggplant much saucier and dilute the tomato paste. Reserve another 2 cups of pasta water before straining the pasta. Pasta water can also be called liquid GOLD. It’s starchy, salty water that will help the sauce stick to the pasta and if your sauce gets too thick it can loosen it up.

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Once you drain the pasta add it directly to the eggplant. Stir it in and add some pasta water if needed. One of the main things that differentiates great-pasta from okay-pasta is finishing cooking the pasta in the sauce. The sauce permeates the pasta with flavor and it becomes a dish rather than a sauce on a starch. Lastly, stir in parmesan of pecorino romano and at this point you’re ready to serve your pasta! You can finish with parsley and basil and to be more traditional some cubed up mozzarella.

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This dish is good to entertain and feed a large amount of people but I usually make it during the week because the leftovers are just as good for lunches!!

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