Penne With Eggplant, Tomatoes, Black Olives, and Basil

From A16: Food + Wine (Ten Speed Press, 2008)

Eggplant vies with zucchini for the distinction of Campania’s most common summer vegetable, and its meaty texture is a natural for pasta. Toothsome penne tossed with chunky bits of eggplant, olives, and tomatoes is so hearty that I almost forget that this dish is vegetarian.

Serves 4 as a main course, or 6 as a first course

1 large globe eggplant (about 1 pound)
Kosher salt
Extra virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic, smashed with the side of a knife
1/2 cup black olives, pitted
1/4 teaspoon dried chile flakes
12 ounces penne
1 pint cherry tomatoes (about 12 ounces), halved
Handful of fresh basil leaves

  1. Cut off the green top of the eggplant and trim both ends. Using a vegetable peeler, peel off lengthwise stripes of the skin so the finished surface is covered with alternating stripes of skin and flesh. Cut the eggplant into 1/2-inch cubes. Toss the cubes with about 1 tablespoon salt, place n a colander in the sink, and weight down the cubes with a heavy plate. Set aside for 20 minutes to 1 hour. This will leach out some of the water, giving the eggplant a better texture when it cooks.
  2. Pat the eggplant dry. In a large saute pan, heat about 2 tablespoons olive oil over high heat. Add about one-third of the eggplant, toss to coat with the oil, and cook, stirring occasionally, for about 5 minutes, or until the eggplant has browned and is nearly cooked through. Transfer the eggplant to a plate. Repeat with the remaining eggplant in 2 batches, using about 2 tablespoons oil for each batch and adding each batch to the plate.
  3. Give the saute pan a good wipe, return to medium heat, and add about 1/4 cup olive oil. Stir in the garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, for about 3 minutes, or until softened. Stir in the eggplant, olives, and chile flakes and continue to simmer over medium heat.
  4. Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the pasta to the boiling water and cook for about 1 minute less than specified on the package. When the pasta is about 2 minutes from being ready, add the tomatoes and basil to the eggplant and continue to simmer over medium heat.
  5. When the pasta is ready, drain it, reserving 1 cup of the pasta water, return the pasta to the large pot over medium heat. Add the sauce and toss well, adding some of the reserved pasta water if needed to loosen the sauce. Cook, stirring occasionally, for about 1 minute. The sauce should be loose enough to barely pool at the bottom of the pot, but not too watery. Taste for seasoning, adding more salt if needed.
  6. Serve the pasta in a warmed large bowl, family style. Drizzle with olive oil to finish and serve immediately.