It’s the beginning of August and a trip to our local farms have confirmed our suspicions – eggplant season has begun! Coming from an Italian home, it’s always odd to hear someone say they don’t know what eggplant is or have never tried it. We use it in so many dishes and preserves, it is quite a versatile vegetable. This sauce, eggplant parmigiana, is a classic in the south of Italy.
Eggplant was one of the vegetables we grew on our family farm. Back then it was one of my favourites because you could fill a bushel way faster than you could with tomatoes!!! Our summers were spent pulling weeds and picking the harvest for delivery to the food terminal and families in and around the Toronto area. Kids that came to our farm would always ask my mom about the eggplant and eventually nicknamed her ‘the Eggplant Lady’. So who better to ask to share this recipe with us than the eggplant lady herself!
Nonna Pina made this sauce for the Nonna’s Way TV pitch and it was a great hit at the lunch that followed. If you are new to eggplant, this is a great place to start.
Originally we were going to make fresh fettuccine noodles to go with this sauce but were told by Nonna Pina that this sauce is only for short pasta – preferably rigatoni or penne. You don’t mess with an Italian’s paring of pasta and sauces unless you want to unleash world war 3! Personally, I am a fan of homemade fettucini so go ahead and try it with your favourite pasta shape, just don’t tell Nonna Pina:)
To make this dish, you will need pasta, a few eggplants, an onion, ground pork, and canned tomatoes. If you don’t have canned tomatoes you can purchase cans of whole plum or san marzano tomatoes and run them through a blender. This sauce only takes a couple of hours to make and freezes well if you have leftovers. Traditionally, our family always ate this sauce with pasta but it is a great topping for bruschetta as well.
Salting then squeezing the eggplant removes the water and bitterness, and keeps them from turning brown before cooking. It’s an important step so don’t skip it! And, a word to the wise, you may want to prepare extra eggplant because once they are fried you will find yourself picking at them! The eggplant does not go in the sauce until the last 5 minutes of cooking so before you know it, you go to put them in the sauce and half of them are gone!
- extra virgin olive oil
- 1 pound (454gm) ground pork
- 1/2 large spanish onion, diced
- 2 X 1 L canned tomatoes, pureed
- 8 large basil leaves (1/2 cup), finely chopped
- 2 X 5.5oz cans of tomato paste
- 5 small black eggplants (650gm peeled and cut into strips)
- salt and black pepper to season
- pasta, short rigatoni or penne
- In a large, non-stick stock pot, heat 1/3 cup (80 ml) olive oil on high. Add the pork and cook for a few minutes then reduce heat to medium-high. Allow the meat to brown.
- Add the onion and let brown. Lower the heat to medium, cook for another few minutes then add the tomatoes. Cover and continue cooking over medium heat.
- Once the sauce has been cooking for 30 minutes, add 2 teaspoons of salt and 1/2 teaspoon of pepper.
- After cooking for one hour, add the tomato paste to the sauce and stir to mix well. Cover again and continue cooking.
- Peel the eggplant and cut into 1/4 inch strips. Place the eggplant strips into a bowl. Add 1/2 Tbsp (7.5 ml) salt to the eggplant, stir to mix well then let rest for 5-10 minutes.
- Squeeze out as much liquid as you can and place into another bowl.
- In a large non-stick frying pan, heat 1/4 cup (60 ml) of olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the eggplant and cook until well browned, about 20 minutes.
- When the sauce has cooked for 1 3/4 hours, add the chopped basil. After 5 minutes add the cooked eggplant and continue to cook for another 10 minutes (total sauce cooking time is 2 hours).
- Cook pasta according to package directions and drain.
- In a large shallow bowl, add a couple of scoopfuls of sauce then add the pasta. Stir to combine. Plate the pasta and place a generous amount of sauce on top. Sprinkle with plenty of freshly grated parmesan cheese.