Although a good recipe is better than the sum of its parts, this summer pasta relies on the best of ingredients. San Francisco chef Michael Tusk sources nearly all his ingredients locally, creating a seasonal pasta dish brimming with tender eggplant and flavor-packed tomatoes. At Cotogna, a rustic Italian restaurant, Tusk harnesses the two height-of-summer ingredients by salting the eggplant to leach out any bitterness and roasting the tomatoes to amplify their sweetness. Don't be tempted to finish the dish with a dusting of Parmigiano-Reggiano. If the eggplants and tomatoes are bought straight from the farm, gentler caciocavallo lets summer's flavors shine.
Spaghetti with Eggplant and Tomato (Spaghetti alla Chitarra con Melanzane e Pomodoro)Recipe adapted from Michael Tusk, Cotogna, San Francisco
Cook Time: 1 hour 15 minutes
1 pound eggplant (about 2 small eggplants), peeled and diced
1 pound fresh spaghetti alla chitarra (if unavailable, you can substitute dried traditional spaghetti)
2 pints cherry tomatoes, halved
4 garlic cloves, peeled and thinly sliced
5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
½ large yellow onion, sliced
½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
2 cups vegetable stock
½ cup tightly packed basil leaves, thinly sliced
¾ cup grated caciocavallo cheese (or provolone)
1. Place the eggplant in a colander over a larger bowl or in the sink and sprinkle with a dusting of salt. Set aside for one hour to drain, then rinse the eggplant and pat dry.
2. Preheat the oven to 300°. Toss the tomatoes and garlic with 2 tablespoons of the olive oil and place them on a sheet pan. Roast until tender, about 45 minutes, and reserve.
3. In a large saucepot, bring salted water to a boil. Cook the rinsed eggplant until tender, about 5 minutes; remove and pat dry.
4. Heat a large skillet over medium heat. Once warm, add the remaining 3 tablespoons of olive oil and cook the eggplant until color begins to form, about 8 to 10 minutes. Add the onion and pepper flakes and cook 2 more minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Remove a small amount of eggplant and set aside. Stir the vegetable stock into the remaining eggplant mixture and bring to a simmer. Remove the pan from the heat and ladle the eggplant and any juices into a blender and blend till smooth. Return the mixture to the skillet and keep warm.
5. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and cook the spaghetti until just slightly firmer than al dente (the pasta will continue to cook in the sauce). Remove the pasta from the water and gently place in the warm sauce. Allow the pasta to absorb the sauce, about 2 minutes. Stir in the reserved tomatoes, basil and reserved eggplant. Divide among 4 bowls, garnish with the cheese and serve immediately.
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