During the holidays, I like to open up my schedule and book private chef events to earn a little something extra. A couple of days ago, I had an event on the books with an Asian-themed dinner. Unfortunately, the event was cancelled last minute and I was left with enough ingredients to feed 15 people. Not wanting to waste any of the produce, I decided to use them all up for my blog. Get ready for plenty of eggplant, corn, shishito pepper, and watercress posts! To start the madness, here is eggplant ragu, a great meat sauce substitution for those wanting to slim the waist, become vegetarian, or just try something new. Even if you're a hardcore meat lover, this dish will be satisfying, believe me!
- 1 large eggplant cut into 1 inch cubes
- ¼ cup olive oil
- 3 anchovy filets
- 1 fennel bulb diced, tops removed
- 2 large red bell peppers diced
- 3 garlic cloves sliced
- 28 oz canned diced tomatoes
- salt and pepper
- ¼ cup basil torn
- 1 lb rigatoni
- shaved Parmesan
- Cut eggplant into cubes. Sprinkle with salt and let sit in a colander for 20 minutes. Press out excess liquid.
- Heat oil in large pot over medium-high heat. Add anchovies and let melt in oil, stirring frequently. Add fennel and saute until browned and caramelized about 5-7 minutes. Add eggplant, garlic and bell peppers and season with salt and pepper. Cover and sweat out the vegetables, about 5-6 minutes, cooking until the eggplant becomes to brown.
- Add tomatoes, stirring to combine. Bring to a boil then reduce heat to medium-low. Simmer for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in torn basil and season sauce with salt and pepper.
- Meanwhile, cook pasta according to directions on package. Drain cooked pasta, reserving ¼ cup of the pasta water.
- Heat large saute pan over medium-high heat. Add the cooked rigatoni, spoon the sauce on top and pour in the reserved pasta water. Stir until pasta is well coated with the sauce. Plate onto 4 bowls. Grate parmesan on top and serve.
**Helpful tips and common mistakes
Whenever I make a vegetarian dish, I use heartier vegetables like mushrooms and eggplants to provide that body. Try making a meatless sauce with just tomatoes and zucchini and you'll just end up with a variation of marinara sauce. Add eggplant, however, and it becomes something else, a heartier sauce that can actually replace meat - who would have thunk it?
The first step in making this eggplant ragu is sweating out the eggplant. Salt the eggplant, let it sit and you can see beads of moisture form on the surface. Why even perform this step? Salting the eggplant draws out the bitterness while preventing it from becoming too soft while cooking. Smaller eggplants tend to be fine even without salting since they have fewer seeds, but with large eggplants, it's a must!
Most people shy away from anchovies but when it melts in the oil, the fishy taste disappears along with it and adds nutty elements to the dish.
Just as you would meat sauce, let the eggplant slowly cook with the tomatoes and peppers. Bolognese sauce typically takes 3-4 hours, but since we are only using vegetables, we can decrease the cooking process tenfold.
When tossing the rigatoni with the sauce, make sure to use the reserved pasta water to bind the sauce together. The starchy water combines everything together into one cohesive dish.
The finishing touch is, of course, the shaved parmesan. I had to stop myself from repeatedly sneaking in bites before taking this picture. The shape of the rigatoni allows it to be fully coated in the sauce, soaking up all the goodness. I do love my bolognese, but when I want to be a little healthier, I'm reaching for this eggplant ragu!
For more pasta inspiration check out this amatriciana pasta!