Chez Panisse Eggplant, Caramelized Onion and Tomato Pasta

Gemelli with Eggplant, Tomato and Caramelized Onions

I don’t know about you, but I’m up to my eyeballs in eggplants here. My CSA delivery last week could have fed a small village, and I’m still feeling a little overwhelmed. Overwhelmed in a good way though. I mean, I’ve been eating my way though a very delicious eggplant chapter in Chez Panisse Vegetables, so far delighting in eggplant gratin with tomato and onion, and roasted eggplant and tomato pizza. I know, it’s been rough.

But this pasta. Oooooh, this pasta. This pasta recipe unexpectedly has eclipsed its chapter companions, its deliciousness attributed to perfectly ripe eggplant, the freshest tomato sauce, sweet basil, caramelized onions, and above all to a most unsuspecting ingredient: sherry vinegar. I don’t know how just a splash of anything could so transform a dish, giving it a depth of flavor that subtly persists through layers of tomatoes and eggplant and onions, but somehow the sherry vinegar has.

There’s something, too, about the way the roasted eggplant melds with the caramelized onions and the tomato sauce that makes cheese totally unnecessary. No cheese on pasta, you ask? Hogwash, you shout!  I mean it. This roasted eggplant tomato sauce spiced with crushed red pepper flakes and freshened with basil was enough for me. I even had some homemade ricotta in the fridge. I even had a bowl of freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano sitting inches from my plate throughout dinner. I had no trouble refraining.

While I know a bowl of hot pasta perhaps isn’t crossing your mind very often in late summer, eggplants are reaching their peak right about now, and they are oh so good. Give this recipe a go. It’s a keeper for sure.

Finally, if you like  summer pastas, you might like this dish, too.

Chez Panisse Vegetables Cookbook

Eggplant from our Olin-Fox Farm CSA:
eggplant from our CSA

eggplant, uncooked and cooked

Making the Sauce

Eggplant, Tomato and Caramelized Onion Sauce

Gemelli with Eggpplant and Tomato

Adapted from Chez Panisse Vegetables
Serves 4 to 6 (or 2 generously…see my notes for a smaller yield)

2 large globe eggplants (I used 1 eggplant, which yielded about 3 cups of diced eggplant weighing about 9.5oz)
olive oil
1 onion, peeled and thinly sliced (about 2 cups sliced)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 handful basil leaves
1 handful parsley leaves (I used only basil)
kosher salt
1 lb. penne (I used 1 cup of Gemelli pasta but use whatever you like)
sherry vinegar
2 cups tomato sauce (I used 1 cup of this sauce)
red pepper flakes
1/2 lb. ricotta salata cheese (I used no cheese, but served grated Parmigiano Reggiano on the side.)

1. Preheat the oven to 400ºF. Cut the eggplants into cubes about 3/4-inch square, toss them lightly with olive oil and spread them out in a single layer on a sheet pan. (Note: I’ve made this twice now, and my instinct the first time was to toss the eggplant with some kosher salt before roasting. The instructions don’t call for this, and second time around, I used no salt, and I think the eggplant came out better.) Roast in the oven for 25 minutes or so, until the eggplant is brown and tender.

2. Put a large (or small) pot of water on to boil for the pasta. Add a large pinch of kosher salt. Cook the pasta al dente.

3. Meanwhile, heat a large sauté pan with the olive oil and onions over medium heat. Sauté the onions until just caramelized. (Note: I started the onions when I put the eggplant in the oven — I find that caramelizing onions slowly over medium heat works best. I also added a pinch of kosher salt while sautéeing. The onions probably sautéed for 25 minutes to 30 minutes total.) Add the garlic and cook for a moment more, and then deglaze with a splash of sherry vinegar. Add the eggplant, tomato sauce, and a pinch of red pepper flakes. Heat the sauce to simmering. Drain the pasta, add it to the tomato sauce pan, and toss gently. Chiffonade the basil and add it the pan.

4. Serve the pasta with a generous garnish of the chopped parsley (I omitted) and ricotta crumbled over the top (I also omitted, but served Parmigiano Reggiano on the side.)

Gemelli with Eggplant, Tomato and Caramelized Onions

15 Comments

  1. I recently found Chez Panisse Vegetables on clearance with a 80% discount at a small museum bookstore. It was the last copy, and the jacket was in perfect condition. I was so giddy I took a photo and tweeted it! I am just starting to try the recipes. Can ‘t wait to try them all. Your eggplant looks divine, I will be making that soon!

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  2. I really needed this recipe earlier this month when I was drowning in eggplants from my CSA. I had the hardest time finding good recipes for eggplant, but this one sounds perfect! I haven’t gotten eggplant in my CSA box the past few weeks, I but I’m definitely bookmarking this recipe for next time.

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  3. Ali, I am going to buy an eggplant and sherry vinegar next time I go shopping! I love pasta dishes! You always make me hungry with your recipes :))

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  4. We made this for dinner tonight, and I must say it is my new favorite way to enjoy eggplant ..!! I, too, have roasted e. plant with salt and did not care for it … this was fabulous. I did add about 3/4 a pint of grape tomatoes to the caramelizing onions, because we had them on hand … YUM! It was great, thank you!!

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  5. O.M.G. this was amazing! My meat-obsessed husband rolled his eyes when he heard we were having meatless pasta sauce. Again. But, by the end of his second bowl he was telling me that we need to plant more (more!) Eggplant next year (he’s unaware of the five we have in the fridge). Anyway, despite having fresh tomatoes on hand, I was too lazy to make sauce, so I threw in a can of fire-roasted tomatoes with a dallop of my pesto and a dallop of tomato paste. Otherwise I followed the recipe and resisted the urge to add extras, as I’m prone to do. So much flavor and texture! We ate ALL of it.

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  6. This recipe is so delicious! I have made it several times (using your modifications) for friends and family and it is a hit each time.

    I featured it this week on my new meal planning blog with a link back to this page. Thank you!

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  7. This sounds really good, I have so far found only one eggplant casserole recipe that the whole family likes. Can’t wait to try this one.

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  8. I made this a few days ago and loved how beautifully it showed off the aubergine.

    I would say that the ricotta insalata is a necessary element–I didn’t use any on this occasion but felt that its mild creamy-ness would add a welcome dimension. I, too, however, refrained from parmesan–and was glad that I did. I find parmesan a great way to prop up a pasta dish if the flavours are lacking, but sometimes it can just dominate. Here, I wanted to taste the aubergine, the caramelised onions, the basil.

    Last, but not least: Alexandra, you are spot on when you say that the sherry vinegar transforms the dish!

    Thank you for another wonderful recipe–I have your lentil soup simmering away on the stove and (lemon) thyme bread rolls rising as I type. It may be Spring over here in the UK, but the weather is dreadul so a warming bowl of lentil soup seems perfectly acceptable–even in May.

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  9. Sounds great, but I think I will add garlic to the sauce. I’m Sicilian and always put garlic and onions in my pasta sauces.

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