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The Earthbound Cook
by Myra Goodman

Discovered this amazingly simple but intensely flavorful pasta dish when our family traveled to Italy a few summers ago. It was so memorable that it made the top of my list of recipes to try to replicate. Chunks of succulent eggplant get a quick saute to set their flavor, then are simmered in a light marinara sauce until tender. At the last minute, cubes of mozzarella di bufalo are added, quickly becoming soft and creamy as they melt into the sauce. This dish goes together in no time, especially if you have marinara sauce on hand. If you don't have time to make my Heirloom Tomato Sauce or the Quick Tomato Sauce, you can fast-track the recipe by using a store-bought version.
   A word about the eggplant, which is at the heart of this dish: Salting is not required, but it's important to saute the eggplant over high heat in the amount of oil specified. You need very high heat to force the eggplant to brown and develop flavor. In the absence of high heat, the vegetable will simply soak up the oil, become soggy, and taste flat.
   I serve this dish with a warmed baguette to sop up the extra sauce, and with a light salad of lettuce and endive dressed only with olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and salt and pepper.
Serves 4


• 4 tablespoons olive oil
• Pinch of dried red pepper flakes, or to taste
• 1 large eggplant (1¼ pounds), peeled or unpeeled, cut into 1/2-inch dice
• 3 cups Homemade or good-quality store-bought marinara sauce
• Salt and freshly ground black pepper
• 12 ounces rigatoni pasta, or other short tubular pasta such as penne or ziti
• 1 ball (4 to 5 ounces) imported mozzarella di bufalo or fresh milk mozzarella, cut Into 1/2-inch cubes (about 3/4 cup)
• 6 fresh basil leaves, roughly torn
• 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan or Pecorino Romano cheese


1. Bring 4 quarts water to a boil in a large covered pot over high heat.

2. While the water is heating, heat the olive oil in a large skillet over high heat. When the oil is very hot, add the red pepper flakes and the eggplant. Cook, turning the eggplant frequently, until it begins to brown and soften slightly, about 2 minutes.

3. Add the tomato sauce to the skillet and reduce the heat to low. Simmer gently until the mixture is hot and the eggplant is almost tender, 2 to 3 minutes. Remove the skillet from the heat. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

4. Add 2 tablespoons salt to the boiling water, and stir in the rigatoni. Cook, stirring once or twice, according to the package directions until the pasta is al dente, 10 to 12 minutes. Just before the rigatoni is done, reheat the eggplant mixture over medium heat.

5. Drain the pasta and immediately transfer it to a warmed bowl. Pour the sauce over the rigatoni, and toss thoroughly to distribute the sauce evenly and coat all the pasta. Add the mozzarella and basil, and toss to combine. Serve hot, with the grated cheese on the side.



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