For the food-obsessed, this is one of the most exciting times of year. After winter whittled our produce options down to hairy carrots, pale cabbages, and shriveled garlic, spring teased us with promise — but mostly provided an exhaustingly constant supply of greens and the here-and-gone quicksilver magic of fresh berries. But now we’re at high summer (is there a whiff of fall in the air, or just wishful thinking?) and now, at last, the harvest begins in earnest.
My harvest basket is piled high with sweet melons and crisp cucumbers, zucchini and peppers and the lusted-after, green-shouldered irregular orbs of heirloom tomatoes. But the food I desire most of all this time of year is eggplant. Beautiful purple, mottled white, or — hardest to find and most delicious — apple-green. I love eggplant simply sliced and grilled for a juicy sandwich, or cooked and chopped with goat cheese into an ugly but delicious salad, or roasted whole until it’s black and caved-in and mixed with tahini and lemon for baba ganoush.
This particular dish has been a favorite of mine since a few years ago, when I had in-laws to feed and nothing fresh in the house but an eggplant. Necessity, they say, is the mother of invention. I combined that eggplant with a few ingredients I am never without — pasta, garlic, canned tomatoes, and cheese — for a simple dish that, to my surprise and delight, delivered all the flavor of eggplant Parmesan with just a fraction of the work.
Eggplant can soak up as much olive oil as you can throw at it. I have made this with more than I call for below, and I really love it that way, but I decided to post the more modest version. Use up to 1/2 cup; the more you use, the silkier and more decadent the final sauce will be.
A note on cheese: This is good with Parmesan or mozzarella, even better with Fontina or smoked provolone, but a nice Asiago really makes it sing. Use what you like best or have on hand.
Linguine with Eggplant Parmesan Sauce
Serves: 3 (4 with a hearty side) Time: 30-40 minutes
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil (good, but not your best)
3 or 4 large cloves garlic, minced or pressed
1/2 to 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper, to taste
1 small to medium eggplant, in 1/2-inch dice
1 can best-quality crushed or ground tomatoes (I use Muir Glen)
1/2 pound linguine or similar pasta
1/2 cup grated Italian cheese (see note above)
Set a large pot of water on the stove to boil.
Place the olive oil, garlic, red pepper, and salt in a skillet large enough to hold the cooked pasta later. Turn the heat to medium until the garlic just starts to sizzle. Add the eggplant and stir to get olive oil onto all the pieces. Saute 10 minutes or until the eggplant starts to get soft.
Add the canned tomatoes and bring to a boil. (This is a good time to use a splatter screen, if you have one.) Reduce to a simmer and let cook until the sauce is thick and concentrated, about 15 minutes. Keep warm.
When the water comes to a boil and the tomatoes have been in the sauce for 5-10 minutes, add salt, then pasta. If using a flat pasta like linguine or fettuccine, stir a couple of times to separate the strands and prevent sticking. Cook according to package directions.
Reserve 1/2 cup of pasta water (to thin the sauce if necessary); drain pasta. Add to skillet and toss with sauce, moistening with reserved pasta water if necessary. Portion into bowls (warmed are nice, but I don’t bother when the weather is hot). Top with cheese and serve.