OK, I know summer is over and fall is upon us (making a winter a forgone conclusion), but even in my Minnesota markets there are a few local eggplants and zucchini to be had, and no better way to have them than in this dish.
If you’ve ever tried the crispy noodle cakes at your local Asian restaurant, you know how wonderful crispy pasta can be. With that in mind, we set about finding a way to use this technique in some of our other favorite pasta dishes. For this recipe, we sauté penne pasta until it’s browned and combine it with roasted eggplant, zucchini and cherry tomatoes for a delicious dish you’ll want to sneak back down for in the middle of the night. Just repeat after us “any food I eat in my nightgown by the light of my refrigerator doesn’t count”.
Kitchen Counter Point: This recipe works beautifully with almost any roasted vegetable. In late fall I like to substitute the summer vegetables with roasted leeks, mushrooms and butternut squash. Goat cheese and toasted walnuts are also lovely with the crispy pasta.
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil, divided
1 medium eggplant, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
2 medium zucchini, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
2 cups cherry tomatoes
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
12 oz penne
4 oz feta cheese, crumbled
1/2 cup pine nuts, toasted
Preheat oven to 450º F and start 6 quarts of water boiling in a large stockpot.
Drizzle the 1/4 cup of olive oil in equal amounts onto two large baking sheets.
Divide the vegetables between the two pans, sprinkle with salt and pepper and toss to coat with the oil. Place the pans in the oven and roast for about 15-20 minutes or until very tender and browned.
Meanwhile, when the water comes to a boil, stir in 2 tablespoons of salt. Cook the penne in the boiling water until it’s al dente. (Begin checking for doneness after 8 minutes of cooking. Bite down on the pasta and look for a tiny white dot in the center of the noodle. It should be firm, but not hard.) Drain the pasta into a colander, shaking assertively to remove as much of the water as possible.
Heat 2 tablespoons of the remaining olive oil in a large non-stick skillet over medium-high heat and add half of the pasta. Sauté the pasta, stirring frequently to ensure even browning, until the penne becomes a crispy, golden brown, about 10 minutes. Remove the pasta to a large, warm serving bowl and set aside. Repeat with the second half of the pasta.
In the serving bowl, add the remaining sautéed pasta, roasted vegetables, feta cheese and pine nuts. Toss together to combine.
Taste to correct the seasonings and serve.