Spaghetti with Eggplant, Tomatoes, and a Pistachio Mint Pesto
If you ever travel to Sicily in the summer months, you’re bound to find Pasta alla Norma on the menu — a pasta dish featuring sautéed eggplant in a rich tomato sauce. I used this dish as my starting point, but used fresh cherry tomatoes to counteract the oily richness of the eggplant, and then swirled in a bright pistachio, mint, and lemon pesto. Because Sicily is famous for both its pistachios and its lemons, this seemed entirely appropriate. If you can find ricotta salata, use that as your garnish, but if not, pecorino or Parmesan cheese will be more than fine.
Serves: 4–6 | Active time: 30 minutes
About 10 leafy sprigs of mint (the 3/4- ounce packs of herbs from the supermarket are perfect)
2 ounces shelled pistachios
1 small clove garlic, peeled
1/2 teaspoon salt
Juice of half a lemon
2 tablespoons olive oil
For the pasta and sauce
1 medium eggplant
2 cups cherry tomatoes
1 garlic clove, peeled
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
10 ounces spaghetti
2 ounces ricotta salata, crumbled (or freshly grated Parmesan)
First make the pesto. Strip the leaves from the mint sprigs, reserving a few for garnish. Place the mint, pistachios, garlic, salt, lemon juice, and olive oil in a food processor and process to a paste. Set aside.
Slice the eggplant into 1/4-inch rounds. Halve the cherry tomatoes. Halve the garlic clove lengthwise.
Put a large saucepan of salted water on to boil for the spaghetti.
Brush each side of the eggplant rounds with olive oil, place on a sheet pan, and broil them on a high heat for 3–5 minutes on each side until golden brown and soft. You could also use an outside grill or, as I did, cook them in batches on a panini press, which will cook them in about 3 minutes.
When cooked, drain the eggplant rounds on paper towels and cut into half moons.
Start cooking the spaghetti according to package directions.
Heat two tablespoons of olive oil in a skillet until hot but not smoking and sauté the halved garlic cloves until golden. Remove garlic from the pan. The oil should be smoking by now, so add the halved cherry tomatoes to the hot garlicky oil — they will sizzle, so stand back — and stir until coated with oil. Turn down the heat to medium and cook the tomatoes until very soft and partially disintegrated, 7–8 minutes. When they are ready, stir in the eggplant and two tablespoons of pasta cooking water. Set aside. Also, stir two tablespoons of the hot cooking water into the pesto.
When the spaghetti is cooked and drained, stir it into the sautéed tomatoes and eggplant, keeping the skillet over a low heat. Stir in the pesto and serve piping hot, garnished with the crumbled ricotta salata and reserved fresh mint leaves.