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Eggplant Shines in a Solo Spaghetti Dinner

by Toni Lydecker, photo credit: Toni Lydecker

           When you're cooking just for yourself, a farmers’ market can be dangerous. It’s all too easy to come home loaded with produce and wonder, what was I thinking? If you’re an eggplant lover, perhaps you’ve surrendered to the charms of a glossy deep purple two-pounder that, once home, reproaches you every time the refrigerator door opens. COOK ME, it says, but how much eggplant can one person eat?
            Fortunately, in farmers’ markets and supermarkets alike, there’s now a profusion of diminutive eggplants—weighing as little as a quarter pound--that are a much better fit for solo diners. Some are babies and some just smaller varieties—such as gracefully elongated Japanese eggplants, violet in color and so thin skinned there’s no need for peeling. Or, you might come upon a white, egg-shaped eggplant that illustrates how the vegetable got its name.
            The earliest written records of eggplant come from China, not Italy, according to Elizabeth Schneider’s Vegetables from Amaranth to Zucchini.
But the Italian affinity for eggplant is apparent in the glorious wealth of applications in this country’s culinary repertoire, from eggplant alla parmigiana to Sicilian caponata. With this rich tradition in mind, one of the things I like to do with a cute little eggplant is to build a pasta sauce around it.
            Use canned tomatoes or, if they turn up in your market basket, ripe plum tomatoes. Sometimes I finish the sauce with shredded fresh basil, but what I like even better is a liberal dose of garlic and red pepper flakes, potent enough to bring a flush to the cheeks. Heightened color can accompany anger--and I’ve always wondered if that’s why dishes with this kind of kick are dubbed all’ arrabbiata, or “angry”—but in this case it signifies pure pleasure.
            As anyone who’s cooked eggplant knows, this vegetable is a glutton for oil. But it can be tricked into absorbing less oil as it browns if you get rid of some of the natural moisture. To do so, allow salted, cut eggplant to “sweat” for a while, then blot well.
            This recipe makes one serving but if you happen to come home with a larger eggplant, just double the quantity of sauce and save half for another meal.  

Spaghetti with Eggplant all’ Arrabbiata
Makes 1 generous serving

1 small eggplant (about 4 ounces)
Kosher salt, as needed
2 to 3 teaspoons olive oil
2 canned plum tomatoes with some of the juice*
1 garlic clove, chopped or grated
 3 to 4 ounces spaghetti
Grated Pecorino Romano or Parmigiano-Reggiano
Hot red pepper flakes

Peel the eggplant only if the skin seems tough; cut in 1/2-inch cubes and toss with 1/2 teaspoon salt. Let stand for up to an hour; blot dry with a paper towel.

Heat the oil in a skillet over medium heat. Fry the eggplant, stirring often, until lightly browned. Stir in the tomatoes and garlic. Let the mixture sizzle for a few seconds until it thickens, and remove from the heat.

Combine 6 cups water and 1 heaping teaspoon salt in a medium saucepan over high heat. When the water boils, add the spaghetti and cook until al dente, about 7 minutes. Drain the pasta, reserving a bit of the cooking water, and return the pasta to the saucepan. Stir in the tomato-eggplant mixture, adding the reserved water as necessary to loosen the sauce.

Sprinkle with the grated cheese and pepper flakes.

* Fresh plum tomatoes, peeled and seeded, can be substituted.

©Toni Lydecker 2006


Toni Lydecker writes often on Italian cooking and is the author of Serves One: Meals to Savor When You’re on Your Own. For more of her writing, visit www.tonilydecker.com.

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