Baked Whole-Grain Penne & Roasted Eggplant

Baked Whole-Grain Penne & Roasted Eggplant

When I have plenty of eggplant on hand and a few hours before dinner, this is one of my favorite things to make. The original model for it comes from Nancy Harmon Jenkins’s Flavors of Puglia, a wonderful cookbook that’s apparently out of print. I’ve adapted her recipe to use whole grain pasta, prepared sauce (hey, we’re all human, right?), and much less oil. The dish is hearty, it’s healthy, and because it’s layered beautifully, it’s almost elegant. Serve it with a simple tossed salad (here’s where that Fig Balsamic I mentioned in an earlier post would come in handy).

Baked Whole-Grain Penne & Roasted Eggplant
Serves 6

2 lbs eggplant, sliced 1/4 inch thick
Olive oil cooking spray
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 lb whole grain penne or other short, stubby pasta (I like Barilla Plus)
2 cups good quality jarred tomato sauce (Barilla is my brand–S is Italian-American, and until we found this one he refused to eat any but homemade)
4 or 5 ripe plum tomatoes, sliced 1/4 inch thick
a healthy 1/2 cup of plain bread crumbs
1/2 cup grated parmigiano reggiano
4 or 5 coarsely chopped sprigs fresh basil (if you’ve got some it gives the dish a nice boost, but don’t worry if you don’t)
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

Preheat the oven to 450, and put a large pot of salted water on to boil (cover it to heat it faster). Spray two foil-lined baking sheets with cooking spray, and divide eggplant slices in a single layer. Lightly spray the tops of the slices, and season with salt and pepper. Roast in the preheated oven for about 15 minutes, or until the slices are browned on both sides (they’ll brown on both sides without turning).

Remove from the oven and set aside.

Reduce oven to 375.

By now your water should be boiling; add the pasta, and cook until it is not quite done–about 9 minutes. Drain the pasta and immediately toss with about 1 1/2 cups of the sauce.

Generously spray the bottom and sides of a glass or ceramic oven dish (I use a 3-quart souffle dish) with cooking spray. Layer half the tomato slices over the bottom and sprinkle with half the bread crumbs, plus salt and pepper to taste. Spread half the sauced pasta on top, then half the eggplant slices. It may look like everything isn’t going to fit–push down on the eggplant a little with a spatula or your clean bare hands. Drizzle about 1/4 cup of sauce over the eggplant and sprinkle with half the grated cheese and half the chopped basil (if using). Now add in layers the remaining pasta, the remaining eggplant, the remaining tomato sauce, the remaining cheese, and the remaining basil. Top with the remaining sliced tomatoes and push down again, then sprinkle on remaining bread crumbs.

Drizzle olive oil over the top and place the dish in the oven.

Bake for one hour. Remove from the oven and set aside to rest for at least 15 minutes before serving.

Serve with extra sauce, if desired.