This is a commissioned recipe
Weeknight pasta meals don’t have to mean reaching for a sauce jar. Or a boil-in-bag pouch. Or even – God forbid – a lurid powder. With a few fresh and a few store cupboard ingredients, you and your family can quickly be tucking into a slippery, savoury pile of pasta studded with this season’s must-have vegetable, the aubergine.
The globe artichokes and anchovies aren’t too shabby either.
According to Michael Hogan of The Daily Telegraph, “Kale has wilted. The avocado is over-cado. Cauliflower has become uncooliflower” and has been replaced by a hitherto unlikely culinary superstar: the aubergine. Or eggplant, if you prefer.
I’m not sure if I agree with the writer’s tortured and scathing assessment of three of my still-favourite vegetables, but I will concur that aubergines are having their moment in the sun. Popularised in the UK by that champion of Middle Eastern food and flavours, Yotam Ottolenghi, aubergines even have their own emoji. A misused emoji to be sure (!), but a sign that aubergines have truly arrived.
Scattered throughout my recipe Index is evidence of my passion for this usually-purple fruit that thinks it’s a vegetable. Of course it is sometimes white and endearingly egg-like, often long and striped, and most definitely verging on ebony, with an enticing shape, like a sly smile. You can eat the antioxidant-packed aubergine roasted, sauteed, griddled, grilled, smoked, charred, steamed, stuffed, stir-fried and even mashed. And it goes with so many other foods and cuisine types that it would be silly of me to try and name them all here.
It is very odd to think that not too long ago many people thought that aubergines were poisonous. Or at the very least caused insanity. Sure it is a member of the nightshade family, and those with rheumatoid arthritis may find avoiding such foods to be beneficial, but today we know better. It is also now grown to remove most traces of bitterness – although I perversely enjoyed those bitter, seedy aubergines of the 70s and 80s.
During the summer I go a bit crazy with aubergines, but they most certainly have their place in an year-round kitchen, if only to add variety and some of the benefits of the unique nutrients enclosed in that shiny, luminous skin. I know eating seasonal is best but you can only have so many squashes, sweet potatoes, parsnips and celeriacs before yearning for foods from slightly warmer climes. But, if you have said goodbye to foods that love sun, do try this with something like the curiously stick-like salsify; roasted or pan-fried Brussels sprouts; or even celeriac, peeling, slicing and cooking slowly on the hob.
Today for my easy pasta meal I am dicing a fat aubergine and slow-cooking it in oil on the hob. But first I de-gorge it of its inherent liquid by salting large slices first (see above image) – something I almost never do but is often worth doing – rinsing, patting dry, then dicing before it hits warm oil. If you have time, this step – it takes about half an hour – can ease the aubergine’s journey from bouncy and firm to melting and golden – but crucially, not oily. This used to be done to remove the bitterness, but bitterness is no longer an issue, especially with heavy and fat specimens.
Another important step is the right pasta. I am proud to say that the much-respected Italian food brand, Barilla recently asked me to come up with a healthy and light meal using their wholewheat, “Integrali” pasta. I could think of nothing nicer than pairing their excellent pasta with a few of my favourite fresh and store cupboard foods – herbs, olive oil, prepared artichoke hearts and bottled anchovies. I also use some of the starchy cooking liquid to help make the sauce, so don’t ruthlessly drain your pasta over the sink without saving at least a few tablespoons of this useful liquid. This little step can make the difference between a good dish and a great one. And it’s free!
COMPETITION TIME: I’m really pleased to let you know that Barilla UK is sponsoring a fantastic competition to win a trip for two to Italy! Entries must be received by December 2, 2016 for a chance to win a cracking £1000 of British Airways vouchers towards a weekend away.
All you need to do to enter is create a pasta recipe using Barilla pasta and post an image on their Facebook page, or do an Instagram post with the hashtags #OutsidetheBox and #BarillaUK. So, get cooking my friends!
Make sure to read the Terms and Conditions before entering. And GOOD LUCK!!
Aubergine, Artichoke and Anchovy Pasta
Weeknight pasta meals don’t have to mean reaching for a sauce jar. With a few fresh and a few store cupboard ingredients, you can quickly be tucking into a slippery, savoury herby pile of pasta studded with this season’s must-have vegetable, the aubergine. The globe artichokes and anchovies aren’t too shabby either. Save some of the pasta cooking water to stir in and make the pasta even more delectable. xx
1 medium-sized aubergine/eggplant (but size isn’t crucial here), sliced into rounds about 1 cm thick
3 tbsp olive oil, divided use (you may wish/need to use more)
1 1/s tsp salt (for de-gorging the aubergine)
3 peeled garlic cloves, divided use
10g mint leaves
10g thyme sprigs
20g basil leaves
3 anchovy fillets, rinsed if in salt
3-4 prepared artichoke hearts, lightly squeezed of liquid or oil and cut into sixths
One tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice OR 2 tbsp of white wine
175g Barilla brand wholewheat “Integrali” fusilli, or other shapes
2 tbsp toasted pine nuts
Optional pasta dish toppings: pan-fried capers, plump raisins, sliced Sicilian olives, grated hard Italian cheese, chilli flakes
1. Lay the aubergine slices in a wide colander/strainer and sprinkle over the salt. Leave to “sweat” for half an hour. The liquid will be a little brown. Rinse the slices and squeeze lightly in a clean tea towel. Chop into small bite-sized pieces. While you are chopping these, also slice two of the cloves of garlic and set aside for the important phytonutrient allicin to develop.
2. Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in a frying pan over a low-medium flame. Add the aubergine and turn over in the oil. Turn the heat down a little to prevent burning. Leave to saute for about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until very golden and soft. Scoop out and set aside, covered.
3. While the aubergines are cooking, either finely chop the herbs and one of the garlic cloves, or process in a small food chopper. You want a fragrant mulch. Set aside.
4. Now bring 1 litre of water to the boil, add 1 tsp of salt if you like; cook the Barilla wholewheat pasta for 10 minutes.
5. While the pasta is cooking, heat the remaining oil over low-medium in the frying pan. Add the sliced garlic and whole anchovy filets. Stir occasionally, cooking until the anchovy melts into the oil and the garlic is quite golden. Add the blended herbs and garlic followed by the artichoke hearts, heating thoroughly. Turn up the heat briefly and add the lemon juice or white wine, cooking until the liquid to mostly evaporated.
Drain the pasta, saving a few tablespoons of the cooking liquid. Splash the liquid into the hot herby anchovies and artichokes and give it a stir. Pop the pasta back into the pan and add the “sauce”. Stir and add olive oil if you wish. Season to taste. Spoon the pasta into warmed bowls, topping with the pine nuts and one of the other suggested toppings if you like.
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*This is a paid, commissioned recipe in collaboration with Barilla UK. Thank you for supporting the brands that make it possible for me to continue creating and sharing recipes on food to glow.*