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Penne with Eggplant, Basil and Mozzarella

This dish is at its best at the height of summer, when you can taste that the tomatoes and eggplant have been ripening under the hot sun. Green peppercorns contribute a pleasant bite, and their bright herbal flavor pairs well with the fresh vegetables.

Ingredients:

  • 1 eggplant, about 1 lb. (500 g)
  • 1 Tbs. fine sea salt, plus more, to taste
  • 1/2 cup (4 fl. oz./125 ml) extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3 large garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/2 tsp. dry green peppercorns, finely ground in a spice grinder
  • 1 cup (8 fl. oz./250 ml) dry white wine
  • Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • 2 cups (12 oz./375 g) peeled, seeded and chopped fresh or
      canned tomatoes
  • 2 Tbs. kosher salt
  • 1 lb. (500 g) penne rigate
  • 1/3 cup (1 1/3 oz./40 g) grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese,
      plus more for serving
  • 1/3 lb. (155 g) fresh mozzarella cheese, torn or cut into small
      pieces
  • 10 fresh basil leaves, torn into small pieces

Directions:

Trim off the stem and blossom end of the eggplant but do not peel. Cut into 1/2-inch (12-mm) dice. Place the eggplant in a colander in the sink and sprinkle with the 1 Tbs. sea salt, tossing the eggplant to distribute the salt evenly. Top with a flat plate, then with a heavy can, and let drain for 30 minutes. Rinse the eggplant and pat dry with paper towels.

In a large fry pan over medium-low heat, warm 6 Tbs. (3 fl. oz./90 ml) of the olive oil. Add the garlic and sauté until softened, about 2 minutes. Add the eggplant and ground green peppercorns, stir well, cover tightly and cook, lifting the lid to stir several times, until the eggplant is tender, 20 to 25 minutes. During the last 5 minutes, add the wine and continue to cook, uncovered, stirring often, until most of the alcohol has evaporated, 3 to 4 minutes. Season with sea salt and black pepper. At this point, the eggplant should be soft and creamy. Increase the heat to medium, add the tomatoes and simmer, uncovered, until the tomatoes are tender, 12 to 15 minutes if using fresh tomatoes and about 25 minutes if using canned. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Remove from the heat and cover to keep warm.

Meanwhile, in a large pot over high heat, bring 5 quarts (5 l) water to a rapid boil. Add the kosher salt and pasta, stir well and cook, stirring occasionally, until the pasta is al dente, according to the package instructions.

Drain the pasta and transfer it, still dripping wet, to a warmed large, shallow bowl. Add the remaining 2 Tbs. olive oil and the 1/3 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano and toss well. Add the eggplant mixture, mozzarella and basil and toss until well combined. Serve immediately and pass additional Parmigiano-Reggiano at the table. Serves 4 to 6.

Adapted from Williams-Sonoma The Pasta Book, by Julia della Croce (Weldon Owen, 2010).