A Little Night(shade) Pasta
August 2, 2011
I love eggplant, and have as long as I can remember. Eggplants are just really cool looking – they come in purple (a big thing for me), they have that shiny skin, and they are voluptuously shaped – Rubenesque if you will. And their taste is unlike any other vegetable I can think of. They are a vegetable, so extremely low in calories, but they have a meaty texture and a rather robust taste – kind of the way portabello mushrooms seem more substantial than your average vegetable.
So I was very happy to see eggplant show up at the Boulder Farmers’ Market. Previously I had only purchased the large pear-shaped, dark purple variety from the grocery store. I had read that the smaller ones tasted better than the larger ones, and wanted to try that theory out, so I picked up some dark purple specimens about 1/2 – 1/3 the size of what I have usually gotten. Then I saw some tiny light purple and white speckled eggplant, plus some long thin white ones. So I got some of those to mix in.
I did some reading about eggplant’s toxicity due to solanine. Most sites indicate that you just don’t want to eat it raw, and that cooking will diminish or neutralize the toxins. Some sites make it sound like you have to peel them, state that the younger ones are more toxic, and that even cooking doesn’t neutralize the solanine. Other sites indicate that solanine isn’t even be present in a ripe eggplant. Okay – my conclusions are, I’ve never peeled the large purple ones, and never had any problems eating them cooked, and have eaten them all my life. So cooked eggplant it is. Since I’m not that familiar with the smaller ones, I decided to peel those, and went ahead and peeled the purple ones so the pieces would cook evenly. But I don’t plan to peel the large purple ones in the future.
My plan was to make a smoky eggplant and tomato sauce to use on the Pappardelle’s cracked pepper fettucine that I had left over from earlier in the week. I got to thinking about how both eggplant and tomatoes are members of the nightshade family, and so, it turns out, is paprika. So – nightshade pasta! I used my new favorite method of making tomato sauce by just cooking down fresh tomatoes. As a vast majority of my dishes start, I began with garlic and onion – some nice red garlic and green onions from the Farmers’ Market. Then I threw in some chives I had left from a previous meal, and added tomatoes and hot smoked Spanish paprika (fast becoming a staple for me). This sauce worked really well on the cracked pepper fettucine. It can handle a strongly flavored sauce, and still has a discernible taste of its own.
To go with the pasta, I made a salad with mixed greens, arugula, carrots, and some very thin slices of pattypan squash and zucchini. I made another batch of champagne vinaigrette using the recipe I found on epicurious, which was a perfect counterpoint to the smokiness of the pasta dish.
Cracked Pepper Fettucine with Smoky Eggplant and Tomato Sauce
6 oz Pappardelle’s cracked pepper fettuccine
1 lb eggplant, peeled and chopped into small pieces
2+1/2 tomatoes, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
3 green onions, finely chopped
1 Tbsp chives, finely chopped
1 tsp hot smoked Spanish paprika
3 tsp smoked olive oil
1/2 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp salt
Heat a non-stick skillet over medium heat. Toss the eggplant with 2 tsp of the olive oil. Cook the eggplant, stirring frequently. If the eggplant is browning too much and the pan starts to get a little charring on the bottom, add 1-2 Tbsp of vegetable broth. Keep cooking until the eggplant is tender. My pieces cooked at slightly different rates, since I used different types and shapes of eggplant – just remove them as they are done, around 6-12 minutes. Set aside the eggplant. Start boiling the water for the pasta, and put it in once it is boiling.
Meanwhile, add the remaining tsp of olive oil to the pan, let it heat up, and then sauté the garlic and onions for about a minute. Add the chives, and continue to sauté for 30-60 seconds more. Add the tomatoes, paprika, sugar, and salt. Turn the heat down to medium low, and cook until the tomatoes break down and form a rough sauce. Add the eggplant, and cook until heated through. Salt and pepper to taste. If the sauce is done before the pasta, just turn it down to low. Mix the pasta into the sauce before serving.