Hearty Eggplant Rigatoni

I have a love/hate relationship with eggplant. I think it may be because I’m slightly allergic to it. I get itchy around my lips after eating it sometimes. The texture and bitterness of eggplant also doesn’t sit well with me. However, when cooked just right it makes for a very hearty and healthy meal!

There’s a tiny hole-in-the-wall restaurant in Harlem called Max Soha. This place makes homemade pastas. Their lamb ragu and eggplant rigatoni are out of this world. So when I want my eggplant fix, I know where to go for it.

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But this time I wanted to try it myself. So I looked up a few recipes once again. Two I was debating between were both from the food network:

Tyler Florence’s 

Giada De Laurentiis’s 

Laurentiis’s recipe seemed to be more on the sweeter side due to the toasted pine nuts whereas Florence’s was more spicy and savory due to the sausage. I wanted to reproduce the taste of the one Max Soha makes which is a simple recipe: eggplant, tomato sauce, mozarella with italian herbs. So I decided to go with Florence’s sans sausage. I also liked that Florence used canned tomatoes. I find using cherry tomatoes or real tomatoes for a sauce doesn’t really give the same level of flavor and moistness. Why, you ask? Because fresh tomatoes we buy at the grocery stores aren’t always in season and hence they’re hit or miss when it comes to flavor. But using canned tomatoes imported from Italy (san marzano) are usually very flavorful.

I made this dish twice. The first time it came out better than the second time. The reason was because I didn’t follow the directions in the recipe the first time but I did the second :). So the hardest part of this recipe is getting the mozarella melted in just right. You MUST grate the mozarella. DO NOT break it up. It doesn’t melt the same way when you just break it up. Also, you should put the mozarella in with the pasta immediately after it is boiled and drained and mix it up well. It will get very stringy and difficult to handle, but it will insure that it is mixed well. Then add the eggplant sauce and mix some more.

I also added more garlic than what the recipe called for and a lot more FRESH basil. I always add more of these because, well, why not? 🙂

I had bought a cute baking dish from HomeGoods that I wanted to try out. The eggplant rigatoni was perfect to bake it in. The top and sides crusted over and browned beautifully. This is the perfect meal for a small gathering of friends.

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