So there I was, standing in front of a 2-for-1 organic Italian pasta display, when my phone rang. It was Nick, and he, like me, had no idea what he wanted for dinner. Except that given the unseasonable cold and rain, it had to be warm and hearty. The words “pasta bake” came out of my mouth, and were enthusiastically received. I grabbed two boxes of penne, and when I looked up, I was faced with jars of Sicilian caponata. Hmmm… eggplant, olives, capers, onions, tomato… that sound pretty good. The jar was halfway to the basket when I decided I’d rather make it myself, fresh. Many circles through the grocery store later (it’s an adjustment getting used to a new supermarket, too), my basket filled to the brim with pasta, eggplants, canned tomatoes, ground beef, a jar of green olives, a block of mozzarella, a container of ricotta, and a couple bottles of chianti, I made my way home under increasingly gray skies.
I arrived home and started cooking immediately. What better way to warm up a chilly apartment? I browned the beef in olive oil, then threw in some chopped onion. Next came a few cloves of garlic and two small eggplants, diced and lightly salted and drained. When everything was nice and brown and roast-y smelling, I deglazed the Dutch oven with a splash of the aforementioned chianti, scraped up the tasty fond, and poured in the tomato products and a canful of water.
Meanwhile, I whisked the ricotta, an egg, and some cream with salt, pepper, and grated Parmigiano-Reggiano.
When the beefy eggplant sauce was nearly done (that is to say, reduced but still a bit watery so as to finish cooking the parcooked pasta in the oven), I roughly chopped some olives and added them to the mix. Then I quickly boiled a pot of water (yay induction!) and cooked the penne for about five minutes. (If I didn’t have the stupid induction top, I could definitely have been doing these things simultaneously. It’s a mixed blessing.) I drained the still-slightly-crunchy pasta and poured the ricotta concoction into the empty pot. I stirred in about half of the eggplant sauce, then the pasta and some mozzarella cubes. This was then divided between two baking dishes (if you’re going to make something like this, it really doesn’t take any more tie to make two, and then you have an emergency dinner just waiting in the freezer) and topped with the remaining red sauce. More mozzarella cubes and a grating of Parm finished them off.
Both got covered in foil, and one went straight into the oven. The other I left to cool a bit before freezing for a future dinner. After 30 minutes in the oven, I took off the foil and let the top get toasty.
And let me tell you, tucking into the gooey, beefy, steaming hot bowl did wonders for my outlook. I mean, if cold, gray days mean food like this, who am I to complain?
On this day in 2008: How to Make Vinaigrette
Originally published on Croque-Camille.