Pasta pasta pasta pasta.
That’s my brain talking. Obnoxious right? Yeah, just try and block that out, I dare you. Sometimes, when my brain starts craving something, the best thing to do is to just give in.
“Okay,” I say. “You win.”
I can’t really blame my body for craving pasta, I mean, it’s starchy and comforting. This time around, my cravings targeted a specific recipe, one I had seen on Serious Eats a few days ago: Eggplant Romesco. I had never heard of Romesco before, a sauce traditionally made with tomatoes, nuts, olive oil, onions, and pepper. I was intrigued by all the pureed veggies in the sauce. It wasn’t just bland tomatoes, but a fresh assortment of veggies, with eggplant included. My only issue with the recipe was the lack of cheese, a problem I could easily resolve. Hence how the original recipe got morphed into an Eggplant Romesco Bake.
This is a wonderful pasta dish if you’re looking to try something besides the same old boring marinara. The sauce is a symphonic collaboration of eggplant, red peppers, san marzano tomatoes, garlic, and onions. But that’s not all, my friends. This sauce also has toasted almonds and sourdough bread pureed in as well, adding this wonderfully rich and unique texture, as well as great flavor. It tastes like nothing you’ve had before, with a thick and hearty consistency that will fill you up good. There is such abundant flavor and depth that you’ll never want plain old marinara again.
Did I mention I topped the whole thing with fresh mozzarella cheese and bake it until gooey and bubbly? Now that takes this pasta over the top. It’s total delicious starchy decadence, comfort food at its finest. However, it’s also bursting with nutrients from all those veggies and almonds. It’s a great way to get picky eaters to eat their veggies!
A Few Tips Before You Get Cooking:
- Don’t like peppers? Substitute more tomatoes instead.
- If you have a tiny food processor, you’ll have to make the sauce in batches. However, I imagine an immersion blender might do the trick instead.
- You can easily skip baking it and serve it as is with some grated parmesan instead of the mozzarella. Or, if you still want it warm, just let it sit over medium heat on the stove for a few minutes.
- Fresh herbs. Fresh garlic. No substitutions!
Eggplant Romesco Bake
Adapted from Serious Eats
- 1 large eggplant, unpeeled, cut in large dice
- 1 medium red bell pepper, cut in large dice
- 1/2 medium onion, quartered
- 3 garlic cloves, peeled
- 2 tbsp. + 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, divided, plus additional for drizzling
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- ½ tsp. red pepper flakes
- 1 (28-ounce) can San Marzano Tomatoes
- ½ cup tomato sauce (from a can)
- 1/3 cup whole almonds
- 1 slice sourdough bread
- 1 pound multigrain penne
- 8 oz. fresh mozzarella cheese, sliced
- 1 tbsp. minced fresh Italian parsley
- grated parmesan cheese, for serving
- Bring a large pot of salted water to boil over high heat. Cook the penne until al dente. Drain and return to pot. Set aside.
- Preheat the oven to 400°F. Spray a 3-quart casserole dish with nonstick spray. Set aside.
- Place the eggplant, bell pepper, onion, and garlic on a rimmed baking sheet. Drizzle with 2 tablespoons of the oil, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon black pepper. Rub the seasonings in with your fingers. Spread the vegetables in a single layer.
- Dump the tomatoes and their juices in a medium baking dish. Set both the baking sheet and the baking dish on separate oven racks and roast until the eggplant and peppers have browned, about 30 minutes, stirring everything twice. Remove everything from the oven and reduce the temperature to 350°F.
- Allow the eggplant mixture to cool for 5 minutes, then scrape into the bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade. Place the almonds and the bread on the same baking sheet and brush the bread on both sides with the remaining olive oil. Toast in the oven, flipping the bread halfway through, about 8 minutes total. Break the bread into pieces.
- Let the bread and nuts cool for five minutes. Then add the nuts, bread, and tomatoes with any residual juices to the food processor. Add the tomato sauce and purée until almost smooth. Pour in olive oil, a tablespoon at a time, and continue pureeing until you reach desired consistency. Add the sauce to the pot with the pasta and stir until well-combined. Pour into the casserole dish and cover with cheese slices (you may use more or less depending on your preference). Sprinkle with parsley and bake for 20-25 minutes, or until cheese is melted and sauce is bubbly. Serve with parmesan cheese.