Hard to believe it, but it's time for another Famous Fridays again! This week's chef is the queen of Italian-American cooking, Lidia Bastianich, who in addition to no less than 10 cookbooks under her belt, is also the chef/owner of 4 acclaimed NYC restaurants and two others across the country, an Emmy-award winning public television host, a part owner of the famed Eataly in NYC (a huge and gorgeous Italian marketplace) and has her own line of pastas and sauces. She is definitely one busy lady and yet what comes through most of all with her, is how important family is. In fact, pretty much all of her food is no-nonsense homestyle cooking, which of course, is right up my alley...like this recipe of hers for ziti with eggplant and ricotta.
I've watched Lidia's show for years and always admired her simple, homey style, but for some reason have never gotten around to cooking any of her recipes. Now, I'm kind of mad at myself because Italian family friendly recipes are just want I need in my arsenal. So much wasted time!! But no matter, I'm making up for it now. This is a dish I've often ordered in restaurants and now I can make it at home! And because the eggplant is baked, not fried, it's a little bit healthier as well!
You start by partially peeling the eggplant so that some of the skin stays on, giving you that zebra affect--
Then, once you've cut up the eggplant and let it sit in salt to drain its moisture, you roast it, meanwhile boiling your ziti and whipping up a very simple but spicy tomato sauce (the recipe calls for 1 teaspoon of hot red pepper flakes, but I would cut that down by at least half next time, because my kids felt like cartoon characters with fire was coming out of their ears after they'd eaten this, despite the fact that they loved it).
Next, it's really just a matter of mixing things together--the ziti with some tomato sauce and fresh basil--
And then adding in the roasted eggplant and fresh ricotta to the hot pasta, so that the ricotta melts slightly but doesn't blend in totally--
It's such a wonderful combination of textures and flavors, the slight chewiness of the roasted eggplant and al dente pasta mixed with the creaminess of the ricotta and parmesan, all surrounded by a zesty, spicy but light tomato sauce. If you're going to indulge in carbs, this is the one to do it with. Make it this weekend and enjoy it with friends and family, Lidia-style!
Lidia's Ziti with Eggplant and Ricotta
Prep Time: 30 minutes (not including the roasting of the eggplant)
- 2 large eggplants
- 2 tablespoons kosher salt (plus more for the pasta water and the sauce)
- 6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 garlic cloves, peeled and sliced thinly
- 1 35-oz can Italian plum tomatoes (I used San Marzano), with their liquid, crushed by hand
- 1/2 teaspoon hot red pepper flakes (increase to 1 tsp if you want more heat)
- 1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
- 1 cup fresh basil leaves, washed, dried well and shredded
- 1 cup (1/2 lb) whole-milk ricotta
- 1 pound ziti (or another tubular pasta)
1. Trim the ends off the eggplants and then peel off 1-inch wide strips, creating a zebra like effect. Cut the eggplants into 1-inch cubes and place in a large bowl. Toss with the 2 tablespoons of kosher salt and dump into a colander and let drain for 1 hour. Then rinse under cold water, drain well and pat dry.
2. Preheat oven to 400ºF. Brush a baking sheet with 3 tablespoons of the olive oil. Place the cubed eggplant on the sheet and toss with the oil, then spread out into an even layer and bake for about 25-30 minutes, until eggplant is browned and very tender, turning the eggplant once or twice during the baking process.
3. Bring a large pot of salted to boil for the pasta. Meanwhile, in a large skillet, heat the remaining olive oil over medium heat. Sprinkle the garlic over the oil and cook, shaking the pan, about 3 minutes, until the garlic is golden. Pour in the crushed tomatoes, pepper flakes and salt to taste. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes.
4. Stir the ziti into the boiling water and cook for about 10 minutes, until al dente, stirring now and then. Drain the ziti and return it to the pot over low heat. Pour in half of the sauce and toss with the ziti. The, remove the pot from the heat and stir in half the parmesan and all the basil. Then add half the eggplant cubes and toss. Add the ricotta by large tablespoons, stirring it gently into the pasta, to melt it but not to incorporate it totally.
5. Divide the pasta among the plates and top with the rest of the sauce and eggplant. Sprinkle with the remaining parmesan and serve.
6. Pasta reheats well in the microwave too!
Note: Recipe adapted from Lidia's Favorite Recipes by Lidia Matticchio Bastianich and Tanya Bastianich Manuali